Kevin Pietersen has always polarised opinion amongst cricket fans. Even back where it all started in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa.
Throughout his career he has ruffled feathers as many of the great players of the past have done, Keith Miller, Doug Walters, Sir Ian Botham and Sir Vivian Richards to name a few. The way the curtain has been brought down on his career, whether you love him or hate him is sad, as the game desperately needs characters, and characters who can deliver.
The ECB has stated that “there was a long term need to begin the long term planning after the Australian Tour. Therefore we have decided that the time is right to look to the future and start to rebuild not only the team but also the team ethic and philosophy.” Paul Downton the Managing Director of the England team is quoted as saying.
It is a brave move to sack one of your best players, but it would appear that the decision was based on team harmony; it may well have been that captain Alistair Cook was not a strong enough personality to bring out the best in Pietersen, surely that is a key part of leadership.
Former England Captain Michael Vaughan would tend to agree as he has been quoted as saying “Sad way to end a maverick’s career. Would love to know what he does that is unmanageable!!?? I think the ECB have to explain.”
Another former England captain Alec Stewart has also questioned the decision but also highlighted what could well be the root of the problem, “When we were winning we didn’t hear anything. When we lose everyone is pointing fingers at KP- and I find that unfair and unjust.”
No England batsman scored over 300 runs in the recent Ashes series. Only Ben Stokes, a player who had been sent home from a junior tour, scored a century. Kevin Pietersen was second in the batting averages to Stokes and scored two half centuries in the series a feat only beaten by captain Alistair Cook who scored three. Pietersen was also England highest run scorer in the series.
Sure he frustratingly threw his wicket away when it looked like he was in and was about to turn the game around, but those coming to the crease before him had often surrendered their wickets far more meekly.
Pietersen was accused by Geoff Boycott of being “cocky and confident.” Boycott himself having been accused of being self-centred many years earlier had countered by saying he was single-minded, and there was a thin line between to the two but they were very different. At the time England captain Michael Vaughan defended Pietersen saying, “KP is not a confident person. He obviously has great belief in his ability but that’s not quite the same thing.”
Man management is a key part of running any sporting team. It is very rare that you will have eleven men in the dressing room who nod their heads and agree with everything the captain or coach says, and successful teams have players who challenge those opinions and offer alternatives. Some characters are harder to manage than others. Many years ago Bob Willis admitted in his Diary of a Cricket Season that he found England spinner Phil Edmonds a hard player to manage. It has happened before and it will happen again in every sport. Australia have to manage David Warner, if they do so the team reaps the rewards.
Sadly Pietersen is his own worst enemy, he has fallen out with people at Natal, and Nottinghamshire, and now he appears to have fallen out with Andy Flower and Alistair Cook. However can England afford to drop its best player a man who has amassed over 13000 runs in all forms of international cricket, (13779 – more than any other England player) and has a test average of 47.28? He is also one of the players who pulls the crowds through the turnstiles even if it is for many in the hope that he fails.
When he was scoring runs consistently he was the number one attraction and the powers that be counted the cash as the turnstiles clicked. Obviously then with a team winning they were happy to tolerate him in the dressing room. When the runs start to come less consistently and his dismissals became almost self-induced as he failed to resist a challenge thrown down by the bowler, his attitude obviously started to grate.
With Andy Flower stepping down as coach the ECB obviously wanted some continuity, and Alistair Cook clearly struggled to handle the man the Aussies nicknamed “The Ego” or “Figjam” ( F$%^ I’m Good Just Ask Me) appeared to be too hard for the captain to handle, so he was sacrificed.
It is a sad way for one of cricket’s most watchable players to end his career, but many will say he had it coming and that it was all of his own doing. Man management was ultimately the reason he has been shown the door. One thing is for sure Cricket will miss KP, for any number of reasons!