It was only a few days after Australia completed the scarcely believable 5 – 0 Ashes whitewash that the talk started doing the rounds. The talk being of Kevin Pietersen having played his last game for England. The addendum to that was the fact that Andy Flower had supposedly given a ” him or me ” ultimatum. Given the success Andy Flower has had with the English team and given for Kevin Pietersen’s past indiscretions, there was only ever going to be one winner if that was ever true. As one would expect, the ultimatum was denied by Flower publicly, even if privately he may have thought so.
A few weeks later Andy Flower resigned from his post citing that it was the right time to go and that a fresh approach to take English cricket forward was the right way. When that news broke, one suspected it didn’t spell good news for Pietersen. Would the ECB allow him to out last two coaches given the often thorny relationship they have had ? Today, the ECB answered that question through a press release which has effectively ended Kevin Pietersen’s international career.
Was it the right decision though ?
First some statistics. Over the last two years Pietersen has averaged 43 in tests and 45 in ODI’s. Over the same time period Cook has averaged 41 and 40 and Bell 41 and 47 respectively. For Pietersen and Cook, those numbers don’t reveal the true picture though. 2012 was a pretty good year for the pair of them irrespective of the format. One could rationale these numbers a lot more ( when were the runs scored, did England win and the like..) but with just bare statistics, Pietersen performed equally well or badly as his two main English team mates. Based on this to then draw a line on his career is unfair.
However, unlike Cook or Bell, Pietersen hasn’t always been easy to manage/handle. Right from the time in South Africa, through his years at Nottingham and beyond, the one constant line has been that Pietersen has been difficult to manage. While it’s easy for the likes of Michael Vaughan to say the English team management should have tried to manage him for the next year and bit, isn’t it equally true that he has been managed to a certain extent for so long ? When Vaughan retired, Pietersen had only had about 3 years of international cricket. He wasn’t at that stage quite the star albeit he did have a swagger about him. How else do you explain that faintly ridiculous hair styles he sported , in addition to his sublime batting.
As he got more established in the team, he seemingly started to get more difficult to manage. How much of this is Pietersen’s fault and how much of it is the failure of Strauss and Flower is open to debate. However since England’s fortunes took a turn for the better at that time, he seemed to be a happy headache to manage. A genius, a maverick, a player who stands out from the rigid English batting approach.. That was mainly what you read / heard about him albeit the fact that he is a different person to handle wasn’t far away. At times Pietersen himself didn’t help his cause or image.
While Pietersen got flak for that, the continuous success that England had and which resulted in them getting to #1 in the rankings meant that he was an headache worth dealing with. However when South Africa landed in England in 2012 all things broke loose. For a few months he was out of the team and then back. It was all about re-integration and how the process was moving along fine and that bizarrely ( however premature) four tests later the process was seemingly complete !
Now a year later that re-integration seems to have transformed into total dis-integration. The ECB press release said it was an unanimous decision of the England management, including the selectors and also had the line (emphasis mine) : ” Therefore we have decided the time is right to look to the future and start to rebuild not only the team but also team ethic and philosophy “.
In the aftermath of the horror tour of Australia, this seems too drastic a step to take. Is it though ?
Pietersen would turn 34 this summer, his knee not entirely in the best shape and how much of an international future does he really have ? Is he really part of the re-building of the English team when at most he would be around for a year or at best 18 months ? Enough of having to manage him ?
It’s easy for fans and folks away from the team to say ” no, he should be managed differently because he is so much different to the rest of the team”. I’ve held on to that view point as well. At some point, everyone’s patience reaches a limit. This might be where the ECB’s and the team management’s has run out. A chance to wipe the slate the clean and start afresh. Is it really that wrong ? Personally I don’t think so. As much as I’d love to see Kevin Pietersen bat this summer, it’s a decision that doesn’t rankle me as much as it does for a lot of others. Wouldn’t it make sense to start the process now with the summer ahead against modest ( Sri Lanka) to potentially good (India) opponents ? Short term pain for probable long term gain ?
That said, four times Ashes winner, T20 WC winner, leading run scorer for England, the switch hit and those innings when his outrageous batting talent shone through. He wasn’t coined FIGJAM by the Australians for nothing.