Sigh. It seems like only yesterday that I was reporting to Pseudscorner on the sudden and emotional departure of an England cricket captain or two.
And now here we are again.
This time many of us saw it coming, but perhaps not quite so soon.
Last summer, after the apparently coincidental resignations of captains Vaughan and Collingwood, the England National Selector, Geoff Miller, was determined to revert to the traditional system of having only one captain for all 3 forms of the game. Unfortunately, he himself had not selected Andrew Strauss - the man most suited for the captaincy in terms of personality and experience - to play in one-day matches for over a year. Also, most of the England side were in patchy form, and only one player could be guaranteed a place in all three sides - Test, ODI and 20/20 - Kevin Pietersen.
Pietersen is like an operatic tenor, gifted, obsessive, conscious of his celebrity status, driven by a sense of his own destiny, and impatient with anyone in the chorus who can’t reach the high notes. Miller and the other ECB suits could hardly fail to know this. They also knew that Pietersen had never captained any cricket team at first-class or international level. And they should have known – though they may have chosen not to – that Pietersen didn’t get on at all with the England coach, Peter Moores.
But they gave him the job anyway.
The ECB think highly of Peter Moores, who came up through their own élite coaching system and succeeded at County level. He leans heavily on computer analysis, but is also a great believer in general physical fitness and instigated something of a boot-camp régime when he first took over after the dismissal of the portly but tactically talented Duncan Fletcher. Getting along with England captains, however, is not his forte.
Michael Vaughan failed to find a good working relationship with Moores. Paul Collingwood didn’t even tell Moores when he had decided to stand down as ODI captain. On accepting the captaincy, Pietersen made a public statement that he had only done so after a lengthy clearing-the-air meeting with the coach, and that he now believed the two of them could work together.
They couldn’t – and by Christmas Pietersen had had enough. Several key players seemed to have stagnated or even lost their touch during Moores’s tenure - although Flintoff, whose problems had been to do with injury and fitness levels, made good progress – and England’s record had been poor, beating only teams well below them in the rankings and several times losing Test matches from winning positions.
Then Pietersen asked for the former captain Michael Vaughan to be in the squad to go to the West Indies in February 2009 – tricky, as Vaughan has been playing terrible cricket for quite some time, but beneficial for a novice captain who could use some of Vaughan’s strategic skill. Miller and his panel of selection advisers (which includes the coach but not the captain) decided against Vaughan, seemingly on Moores’s advice.
Pietersen decided that Moores had to go.
Had he announced this online, cyberspace would have resounded with cheers from the massed ranks of cricket bloggers, who have been declaring for at least a year that Moores is the cricket version of Steve McClaren and calling for his head in more or less colourful ways.
In fact, Pietersen had a discreet meeting with Giles Clarke, chairman of the ECB, who steered him back towards Hugh Morris, the managing director of the England team. At some point, Pietersen apparently stated that he really wouldn’t be prepared to go to the West Indies with Peter Moores still in place. He seems to have been assured that discussions would be had and something would be done, and he left to go on holiday in Africa.
And then the media got hold of it.
Somebody told a journalist that Pietersen, angered by the refusal to select Vaughan, had issued an ultimatum to the Board, ‘Moores or me’. It now seems very likely that this person was Michael Vaughan himself, perhaps anxious to convey how essential he still was to the side, or to demonstrate the difficulties of working with Moores.
Vaughan is a political animal, but is friendly with Pietersen and probably had no intention of undermining him. The effect of his leak, though, was to launch a volley of press coverage of The Power Struggle, much of it hostile to the captain. Pietersen had “seized an unprecedented amount of power for an England captain”, he had been “indulged”, the ECB were “giving in to his whims”. Pundits warned that Pietersen was effectively taking over the power to hire and fire the coach. Right-wing papers dragged up his South African background yet again. Who did he think he was, this opportunist mercenary trying to get an honest, hardworking English coach the sack? Pietersen made a vague statement in his regular column which was characterised as “using the media”.
Then the ECB began briefing against Pietersen, and their tame journalists were kept busy knocking out pieces about how outrageously Pietersen was behaving. “People who want to keep their jobs don’t issue ultimatums” said a carefully anonymous Board official. “I’ve never seen an ego like it in cricket,” said another, demonstrating a remarkably limited experience of a game with a rich history of human steamrollers. For a while it looked as if they really intended to keep Moores in place and sack the captain they had appointed only five months before.
Meanwhile, managing director Hugh Morris was sounding out opinion in the England team - but, knowing that the coach was a personal friend of his, players may well have been less than frank. He didn’t speak to all of the players, either; but he got the ammunition he needed to tell Pietersen that the team were not behind him and that by issuing his ultimatum the captain might have ‘lost the dressing-room’. Pietersen seems to have been told this while still on his safari holiday, the sort of phone call which makes one disinclined to pop out and photograph a few giraffes.
In the end, the ECB pressured Pietersen into resigning, indicating that they thought he was wrong, and fired Moores, indicating that they thought Pietersen was right.
It was always likely that Kevin Pietersen’s reign would end in tears, and no doubt he has been impetuous and arrogant. He always is, as those who gave him the job knew very well. But he’s never less than entertaining, he brought an enjoyable theatricality to the role and he was growing into the captaincy. I predicted that he wouldn’t last till the Ashes in Summer 2009, but I take no pleasure in being proved right.
The England side will now be captained by Andrew Strauss, despite the perceived shortcomings as an ODI or 20/20 player which ruled him out last year. He has the attributes to become a very good captain, and arguably should have had the job some time ago. There will be a new coach, who will, one hopes, have a better understanding of the needs of international players than Moores did.
But what a mess.
It becomes easier to understand when you look at this photograph. These are the England and Wales Cricket Board. Sadly, the thing behind them is not a spaceship and they will not be leaving in it any time soon.
(photo of Kevin Pietersen by Greg75 of www.flickr.com)