‘How about we put together a nice cosy environment where everyone goes along with everything Alastair says?’
Imagine we’re not talking about cricket for a second and put yourself in a position where someone’s just said that to you. How do you feel? Do you think that sounds like a good idea? Some bloke called Alastair? Does he know best?
As ever, there’s the fact that we DON’T KNOW ANYTHING AT ALL, but if you overlook that minor detail and read the words of yesterday’s ECB statement, that first paragraph feels like the subtext.
“We must invest in our captain Alastair Cook and we must support him in creating a culture in which we can be confident he will have the full support of all players, with everyone pulling in the same direction and able to trust each other.”
No. You earn support. You earn support by making good decisions. Did England lose because the captain didn’t have the full support of his team, or did the captain not have the full support of the team because they were losing?
People should be challenged. Leaders, in particular, need to be challenged – if only because they tend to be the kinds of people who think they know best. The kinds of people who see themselves as leaders are, by and large, less open to other opinions than your average sentient human.
We’ll be honest, our opinion is coloured by our own experiences, but we’ve been in enough work situations where someone has demanded loyalty to know that it is almost always a sign that they have lost control – usually because that person doesn’t really know what they’re doing.
The disappointing part is that we’d kind of warmed to Alastair Cook’s captaincy. Back when he was the anointed one, we were far from onside, but the more Shane Warne slagged him off, the more we thought he was doing plenty right. The on-field tactics were often a bit wobbly, but that’s the kind of thing you can pick up over time. The off-field stuff’s harder and Cook appeared to be keeping things together.
That view would now appear to be massively, massively wrong. A week or so ago, we really felt like this winter battering might have been the making of Cook. They say what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, but apparently it can also make you weaker and a little bit insecure.28 Appeals
In our experience, the employees most likely to be considered ‘team players’ are the obedient, unquestioning ones. Management may make great show of inviting feedback – and they may honestly believe that they’re open to it – but the truth is that no-one makes a decision thinking it is the wrong one.
Most of us, when our thinking is questioned, are liable to grow defensive. We’re also likely to somewhat take against the person who is challenging us. A manager might think: “Why are you trying to undermine me? Why can’t you be more of a team player, like Alan or Deano?”
This sort of situation is compounded when the questioner reads social situations badly and when the person being criticised is feeling vulnerable anyway. We wonder to what extent this might be what happened with Kevin Pietersen, Alastair Cook and Andy Flower in Australia.
Motives and execution
The Telegraph is reporting a Pietersen ‘rant’ about Andy Flower during a players’ meeting. You can easily imagine that he might have gone about things the wrong way, but was what he was saying really so radically different to what the rest of the players were feeling?
Cook and Prior called the meeting because they felt they were relying too heavily on Flower. It seems Pietersen was of a similar mind, but felt that this was Flower’s fault. This is a distinction, but his motives for speaking up were the same: the team weren’t playing well and he had identified a lack of self-reliance among the players.
At heart, he still wanted the team to improve, but expressed himself badly with the effect perhaps magnified by his frustration at being marginalised.
Threat to sense of self
Andy Flower is a strong man. Few would question that. Could a man who took a stand against Robert Mugabe ever feel threatened by someone like Kevin Pietersen?
Well, perhaps. Taking a stand against a dictator takes courage, but if anything it is an act which adds to your sense of self. You can take pride in what you’ve done. It is not easier to do than accepting you were wrong about something – but it is a different thing. Accepting you were wrong means acknowledging your own fallibility and who can readily take pride in that? Flower might well not be that kind of person.
It’s the flipside of having conviction. When things are going badly, conviction might manifest itself as greater certainty that you are right and a belief that what is going wrong is that people aren’t doing exactly what you want them to do. All your repressed insecurities and self-doubt might therefore become focused on those who question you the most (and in the clumsiest manner).
A strong, confident, self-assured leader of men
Alastair Cook was perhaps in a similar position. He will certainly have been having doubts about his ability to lead the team – he’s said as much himself. That’s not a strong base from which to withstand questions about the way you’re going about things. It’s easy to say that valid points should be taken on board by those in authority, but insecurity can affect us all – particularly when the defeats are piling up.
We’ve done another Pietersen piece for Cricinfo. You’re probably a bit weary of it all by now, but if you’re not, it’s about the ECB information vacuum and the concept of ‘rebuilding’.29 Appeals
Remember when England dropped Nick Compton? At the time, we thought maybe they were getting a little bit ahead of themselves. People said Joe Root was amazing and there were loads of other amazing batsmen queuing up to play for England and come on, come on, bring us the future; the future’s going to be amazing multiplied by amazing!
A few months later, 33-year-old Mike Carberry made 78 against a Western Australia Chairman’s XI and England were now in a position where they thought: “Oh, okay, er, maybe he could open the batting? And then Joe Root could move back down the order? Yeah? Yeah?”
Sometimes you can overestimate the quality of what you have in reserve. Particularly if you’re cocky and kind of stupid.
But of course we’re in a completely different situation now. Back then, England were planning for a glorious future and ushering in talented youngsters in a bid to experience it sooner. Now England are shit. Now it’s time to rebuild with talented youngsters. You know, like Australia did earlier in the year.
Because surely that should be the template for how to turn a team around? Except for the likes of Chris Rogers, Mitchell Johnson, Brad Haddin, Ryan Harris and a few others, Australia started afresh, didn’t they? They gave youth its head.
When times are tough, you have to move on. It’s vital to start rebuilding and the first step in that process is to chuck any half-decent bricks you find into a skip. It’s not sinful waste, you see – it’s long-term planning. You can’t really judge the wisdom of these decisions now because it’s a long-term thing. It’s all going to be fine. Stop questioning the ECB’s wisdom, okay? Just stop.51 Appeals
Granted, we work for them, but we’ve been very impressed with Cricinfo recently – specifically with regards to their near-refusal to report on the latest ‘Kevin Pietersen situation’. They’ve pretty much restricted themselves to one ‘it’s being reported that senior figures are to meet on Tuesday to decide the future of Kevin Pietersen’ article, when they could easily have produced daily non-news on the subject, adding to the general nowtstorm that’s been raging of late.
If you don’t know what’s happening, you’re not alone. Even those of us who have been foolish enough to try and follow this saga don’t know what’s happening because there have been very few specifics.
The Guardian has been most guilty, churning out article after article dotted with ‘it is thought’ and ‘there is a belief/feeling’ with very little in the way of actual detail. It’s been infuriating to read. When the writer appears to know something, but feels they cannot put it across using specifics, it’s immensely frustrating.
We’re not sure whether it’s a sign of a journalist being disconnected from their audience, assuming they’ll pick up on whispers and allusions in the same way as their press box pals, but it makes for bad writing, lacking in value, in our eyes. Perhaps there’s a narrative to the writer, but from the reader’s point of view, hearsay has been repeated until a point at which it is then presented as fact.
A vague overview of the situation
Sorry, it can’t be anything but vague because as far as a non-journalist is concerned, dramatic things are happening for no clear reason.
- ‘Poor behaviour’ from Pietersen has been mentioned
- Being ‘high maintenance’ is another of the charges
- Pietersen is said to be ‘a bad influence’ on younger England players
- Alastair Cook, Ashley Giles and Paul Downton are apparently meeting today to decide whether Pietersen should be ejected from the team
Even if there does turn out to be some major issue that precipitates the end of Pietersen’s England career, it won’t negate criticisms of earlier coverage of the story.
When you were a child, there was probably an occasion when some other kid claimed to know ‘a secret’ and wouldn’t tell you what it was. They hinted and mocked you, but wouldn’t relent. Eventually, a third party whispered in your ear and everything became clear, but that didn’t mean that the first kid hadn’t been acting like a complete dick.29 Appeals
‘He goes or I go’ – this is supposedly the stance being taken by Andy Flower, according to Mike Selvey in the Guardian. We almost wish there were a sixth Test so that we could continue talking about cricket – but of course that would merely postpone this sort of stuff. It wouldn’t prevent it.
Let’s naively take the story at face value, ignoring the mechanisms and motives of the press. We’re doing this for no reason other than it gives us an excuse to write about our bathroom.
Kevin Pietersen may well be a pain in the arse; he may well disrupt the rest of the squad to some extent; but if a ‘him or me’ ultimatum is the best method you can come up with for resolving such things, it doesn’t bode well for the rest of your strategising.
In our house, the bathroom is downstairs, next to the kitchen. It’s a stupid layout, we don’t want it there and there have been many suggestions as to how to move it upstairs. No plan is perfect, but we’ll eventually go with the one that is most satisfactory. What we won’t do is dynamite the existing bathroom and just leave it at that.
You need a bathroom. If you’re in charge, your job is to find a way of having one in the house.27 Appeals
Kevin Pietersen can often look a caricature of a batsman. Look at his leave. When he leaves a ball, Jesus Christ it stays left. The ball really knows it hasn’t been hit following KP’s huge, flourishing, circular withdrawal of the bat.
Today, Pietersen batted sensibly and in keeping with this exaggerated depiction of the various aspects of batting, it was painfully sensible. It took him 14 balls to manage his standard hairy single to get off the mark. After 43 balls, he had just four runs.
The 49th ball he faced was from Mitchell Johnson and he edged it for four. The 52nd was a bad ball from which he gathered four runs in more deliberate fashion. He hadn’t changed gear – at least not deliberately – but maybe he thought he had, because at this point he became a caricature of Kevin Pietersen the domineering freewheeler.
He tried to pull his 53rd ball (still from Johnson) for four and mishit it. It lofted in the air. He was lucky to survive. Unfazed, he drove at his 55th delivery, from Siddle, which was wide and a good length and only threatening if you for some reason chose to try and drive it. It found the edge, but fortunately for Pietersen, the inside edge. To his 59th ball, he spooned a short one and was out.
What an idiot
Apologies for the preceding paragraphs being a bit ball-by-ball, but we’re about to make a wider point. Because Pietersen is a caricature, everything he does looks better or worse than his team-mates. However, the thinking and behaviour we can so easily see in him is often there in the other batsmen too – it’s just not quite as obvious.
Pietersen was frustrated and when KP’s frustrated, he plays the most ludicrous shots. This is not because he gets more frustrated and more irresponsible than the others. It’s just that what we call ‘ludicrous shots’ are just ‘shots’ to him. You can’t have the good ludicrous without the bad ludicrous because the difference between the two is nothing but a matter of timing. It’s no different to Alastair Cook either edging or missing a forward defensive stroke.
An arid spell
Pietersen got himself out, but Australia got him to get himself out. For all the talk of Johnson’s pace, the home team have bowled dry extremely well this series. It’s why batsmen have so often been dismissed when there’s been a bowling change. They’re looking for an end to the pressure. In fact, they look too hard for an end to the pressure and think they’ve found it when they haven’t.
“Oh good, Lyon’s on.”
A good bowling attack is an adaptable attack. Bowling dry isn’t always the answer. Fierce pace isn’t always the answer. Spin isn’t always the answer, swing isn’t always the answer, seam isn’t always the answer. However, the more bases you’ve got covered, the more consistently you can threaten batsmen – and the more consistently you can threaten them, the harder it is for them to score.
And so the pressure builds.
England ended the second day on 180-4. Ian Bell is on nine off 62 balls.30 Appeals
If we had to use a word to describe Kevin Pietersen in the field, we’d use ‘prancing’. However, he hasn’t been prancing in this match. He’s been cumbersome. We also saw a photo of him running during one of the warm-ups and he was panting with neck flab caught mid flap. Clearly, based on yesterday’s evidence, he has plenty more runs in him, but there are signs we should make an effort to appreciate his innings while we can.
Pietersen describes himself as ‘an old man’ and says that his knee was ‘a shambles’ in New Zealand and will never fully recover, but as long as the joint can do its bit and allow the other parts of his body to move in the correct sequence and at the correct times in order that sixes can be whipped over the bowler’s head, he’s still in business.
Looking at the forecast for this afternoon and Monday, much of the action in this match could be considered attritional preamble for the fourth Test, which starts on Friday. By that yardstick, England have scored 120 overs to Australia’s 146 and could conceivably secure a first innings lead.26 Appeals
The tone of that title is meant to convey that this news is significant but that we don’t really have anything to say about it. We hope it has delivered in that regard.
Kevin Pietersen’s absence seems like the kind of thing people might be talking about, but sometimes conversation doesn’t flow with ease. Sometimes it’s halting and awkward and you walk away feeling like you haven’t given a good account of yourself. It’s worst when you’ve been speaking on a topic on which you feel you should have an informed opinion. The best way to tackle this is to never talk to anyone about anything you remotely comprehend.
Sometimes we find ourself in a situation where, against all odds, we’re talking to semi-strangers about cricket. If this happens, we make a conscious effort to shed knowledge. You don’t want to be the guy who knows about stuff; they pay you more attention then. This is why we don’t tell people that we write about cricket. We want to put them off the scent, so we carefully calibrate our comments accordingly.
This is actually pretty difficult because you have to remember what kind of information is likely to be common knowledge and what’s minutiae. A mistake we often make is to say something head-smackingly obvious about a cricketer who we then realise is far too obscure for everyday conversation.
Players who can safely be discussed:
Players who cannot safely be discussed:
- Jonny Bairstow
- Graham Onions
- Nick Compton
- Jos Buttler
- Mehrab Hossain junior
There’s a real art to successfully engineering an entirely unrewarding conversation which revolves around a topic on which you are actually very well informed. It’s one thing we pride ourself on.22 Appeals
Sometimes you bat for your team-mates. Let’s imagine there’s only one threatening bowler in the opposition attack. If you can put some mileage into his legs, you make it easier for the batsmen who follow you. To some extent, it doesn’t really matter how many runs you score. You are making an investment on behalf of the team.
When Graeme Swann dismissed Yuvraj Singh in India’s first innings, he had 4-78, but he was starting to flag and he eventually finished with 5-144. The lower order had faced a different bowler.
India’s batsmen didn’t really get after Swann. Instead, they played in the knowledge that even spinners tire. Gambhir extracted 44 deliveries from the off-spinner, making just 14 runs in that time; Pujara scored 62 off 133; Kohli scored 7 off 30; and Yuvraj scored 25 off 49.
Those are dull statistics, but if you can commit the opposition’s best bowler to 51 overs of toil, you aren’t just surviving him, you are eroding him as well.
In England’s first innings, Kevin Pietersen and Ian Bell made no such investment. The latter didn’t even take a sighter. The former will doubtless argue: “That’s just the way I play” and to that, we can only reply: “What, badly?”
Bowling workload doesn’t make the highlights reel, but it matters. How much was Cook and Compton’s decent second innings opening stand the result of the incremental loss of zip from India’s spinners? Ashwin and Ojha bowled 49 of the 71 overs in England’s first innings, but they could have been asked to do more work.
If those two bowlers recover their vim and venom overnight, England’s openers will try and do their job. Bell and Pietersen will benefit should they be successful. Maybe next time they could return the favour.3 Appeals
England today announced that a player who has not retired from international cricket, who averages almost 50 and who hit a hundred in his last Test match is indeed going to be included in a Test squad.
The press asked England’s selection panel whether this was wise in light of the fact that some of the player’s team-mates think that he is a bit of a bell end. The panel may or may not have responded by pointing out that Ian Botham was selected over a hundred times.
We can exclusively reveal that in order for this to have happened, the player in question has had to look several people in the face and say some things.18 Appeals