Like a tired bear in winter, let’s try and put this to bed for a few days. Maybe it’ll have to get up again at some point next week to go for a wee, but we’re kind of hoping that we can concentrate on the New Zealand series from now on.
As far as we can tell, this is how it’s gone…
Colin Graves told Kevin Pietersen that if he came back and played county cricket and maybe made a triple hundred, he couldn’t see why he wouldn’t get back in the team. He said this because he genuinely couldn’t see why he wouldn’t get back in the team.
Then, while Graves was in the Caribbean, he discovered that England’s captain, Alastair Cook, was adopting a ‘him or me’ position on the issue. Not mad keen on having Joe Root as Test captain just yet, the ECB opted for ‘me’ in favour of ‘him’ and tried to ham-fistedly make the best of that.
Kevin Pietersen came back, played county cricket, made a triple hundred and requested his place in the side. Andrew Strauss broke the news to him.
This is perhaps why, at the press conference the following day, Strauss said that Pietersen wouldn’t play for England ‘this summer’, while adding that he couldn’t offer guarantees beyond that. He was basically just acknowledging that there are two possible scenarios.
- England win the Ashes, Cook stays, Pietersen remains excluded
- They lose, Cook goes and Joe Root – who has just been named vice captain – takes over
Cook presumably feels the presence of uppity Pietersen with his inability to keep his trap shut makes captaining the side impossible. If the public comes to accept the version of events outlined above, he may come to reclassify that particular ‘impossible’ as merely ‘very, very difficult’ in comparison to what he is likely to experience should England start losing this summer.
Strauss said of Peter Moores that every game had become a referendum on whether he should continue to do the job or not. It would be like that, only a hundred times as vitriolic and a thousand times less dignified.
Here’s the real nub of the problem
The main problem, as we see it, is that some people seem to think that being England captain is a big deal; like it somehow elevates you above all other England cricketers. If Alastair Cook didn’t see captaincy as something to aspire to, he could have acknowledged that it wasn’t especially his thing at the very outset and instead busied himself with the greatly more important job of scoring Test runs. Pretty much everyone would have liked him more for it.
You’d never get this kind of thing with Pakistan. Pakistan would have had about nine different captains by now and everything would have been much less chaotic as a consequence.38 Appeals
Time for a County Championship update. The crucial piece of information is that Middlesex are now top.
If Sussex defied their top order runlessness to take an early lead, Middlesex have for the most part adopted a different approach. Their strategy seems to involve spending quite a lot of time trying to lose games before finally getting everything together when it really matters.
Against Nottinghamshire, they conceded a hundred run first innings deficit, allowed their opponents to make 400 in the second innings and then calmly batted out a draw.
Against Somerset, they again conceded a hundred run first innings deficit, but ultimately chased down the frankly ludicrous target of 402 to win. Adam Voges made a daddy hundred, getting himself in form on the offchance that the Aussies might require him for England-beating purposes at some point this summer.
The batting remained strong in the next match against Durham, where Middlesex made 463. After attaining an unassailable 170 run lead after the first innings, they promptly assisted their opponents by assailing themselves through being bowled out for 89 with their number 11, Tim Murtagh, the top scorer. Then, with incompetence well and truly purged from their system, they required all of two bowlers to bowl out Durham for 71. Steven Finn was not the pick of the bowlers with his one wicket.
But maybe it’s catching, because this week’s performance was decidedly Sussexy. At one point 76-4 in the first innings and then sinking to 103-6 in the second they never really made a decent total but still won comfortably. Their opponents were, somewhat inevitably, Sussex, who basically just out-Sussexed them, as you’d imagine they should.
In amongst all of this, James Harris has taken an awful lot of wickets.16 Appeals
What may eventually prove to be Kevin Pietersen’s final six scoring strokes in first-class cricket were, in order, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6. At that point, there was nowhere left to go.
A friend of ours was referred to a heart specialist once. As he sat in the waiting room alongside lots of sad looking folk, Unbreak My Heart started playing on the radio. Point is, plenty of things that you’d roll your eyes at if they happened in a sitcom actually do happen in real life.
Witness the ECB’s public relations efforts. A script editor would rip such a story apart for being too contrived, too convenient, too obvious to pass as comedy. Kevin Pietersen is allowed to believe that if he returns to England and makes runs in the county championship, he may be considered for selection. He makes 326 not out and that night – that very same night – he is told that actually, no, he will not be considered for selection.
The news is leaked, obviously. It always is. It is leaked at the exact same moment that the ECB Twitter feed publishes a link to highlights of Pietersen’s innings. The next day, the ECB officially unveil their new director of England cricket, the man who has made the decision to continue to omit Pietersen. It is Andrew Strauss, a man who once called him a cunt on TV; a man who, for all his qualities, is considered the embodiment of the establishment by those feeling disenfranchised and alienated by that very establishment.
Strauss says that Pietersen is not going to be selected any time soon because of trust issues. He later adds that he offered him a consultancy job with the one-day side, which Pietersen declined. Apparently trust is not required for that sort of a role.
If you can, temporarily suppress your feelings about Kevin Pietersen. Find a way of pretending that you’re a dispassionate observer tasked with repairing the ECB’s tattered image. They are, after all, considered a toxic brand even by themselves.
If the notion that the ECB is a cosy old gentleman’s club, a sort of pseudo-masonic quasi-incestuous backslapping coven, then that notion had to some degree been confined to certain individuals. Whether they were truly the guilty parties or not, people like Paul Downton and Peter Moores had been infected with this cancer, but they had recently been excised. Giles Clarke is about to depart as chairman and while he will retain influence, the arrival of Colin Graves had at least felt progressive.
Now, somehow, against the odds, the cancer of negative public perception has been allowed to spread. And not just subtly and by stealth, but like something from an unusually gory B-movie. People are being eaten alive. A three-time Ashes-winning captain has become public enemy number one among a large swathe of England fans. The new coach is tainted by the new-old regime even before being sounded out about whether he might maybe like to think about possibly perhaps applying.
Rights or wrongs of the selection or non-selection of one player aside, how in the hell does an organisation find a way to shoot itself in the foot like this; a prosthetic foot it only received following an identical shooting incident just last year?60 Appeals
The Kevin Pietersen saga is often described as a soap opera. This is quite accurate because the defining feature of a soap opera is that IT NEVER ENDS. Okay, Crossroads and Eldorado did, but you get what we’re saying. For the most part they just rumble on, day after day, setting up contrived storylines and having them play out.
Kevin Pietersen’s triple hundred today was neither proof nor irrelevant. It was an impassioned and noteworthy innings against the worst first-class county. He can’t help who he plays. All he can do is score a few runs. Today he did that in about as convincing a manner as possible. The second-highest score in the innings was Kumar Sangakkara’s 36.
More is needed, but on this evidence more is highly likely to arrive. What strikes us most is that Pietersen was at his most exciting early on in his career when he had it all to prove. Back then, there was real steel underpinning the carnage. If his sense of being wronged has brought that back and precipitated some sort of driven final fling, then excellent.
Very few batsmen possess the qualities required to make you think you might be about to see something you’ve never seen before. Very few batsmen play the kinds of innings you feel compelled to send text messages about. It’s not about playing outlandish shots or scoring heavily, it’s a combination of brutality and endurance, a way of manhandling a match and pointing it in a new direction.
Brian Lara explored new territory, so when he got going you couldn’t really feel confident about where things were going to end. There is something of that in Pietersen. Today a hundred wasn’t enough; and a double hundred wasn’t enough; and his highest first-class score wasn’t enough. Plenty of players have hunger, plenty of players have ability. Very few sit at the farthest extremes of the spectrum on both counts.12 Appeals
England have sacked their coach; the coach they hired about a year ago with a view to rebuilding the side in time for the Ashes series which starts in about 45 minutes’ time. We’re increasingly wondering whether they should just scrap long-term plans in favour of short-termism. It seems a more realistic way of operating.
Unlike his predecessor, Andy Flower, Peter Moores seems to have a decent knack for picking out talented players. Whoever follows him will doubtless benefit from this. Hopefully this next coach will get the opportunity to wring those same players dry in a period of unparalleled success.
When that period finally implodes, England should hire Moores for a third time to pick out the next batch of players and draw people’s ire until everything’s ready to go again. He could become some sort of ire-drawing, low ebb specialist; a man who builds decent foundations while simultaneously being blamed for the embarrassing lack of walls.
ECB chief executive Tom Harrison says the sacking has been made ‘as we focus on the future’.
‘Twas ever thus, but as any horologist will tell you, the future never comes.25 Appeals
Clearly the highlight of this weeks’ Twitter round-up. (Yes, we do still write that.)
Our other favourite bit is Tino Best’s caption to a photo of himself where he claims he was bowling ‘thunderbolts’ and suggests that everyone nearby is looking on ‘in amazement’. To be totally clear, this is a caption written by Tino Best, about Tino Best.
It’s hard not to love him.1 Appeal
My baby was due to enter the world on February 18th, just a few days into the tournament. Not ideal timing, but at least he wasn’t interrupting The Ashes.
In the end, he was late. Five days after the scheduled start of his innings, at risk of being timed out, things began to stir. We were just getting used to the comfortable preliminary round, experimenting with fielding positions and fine-tuning the batting order, when the situation suddenly became a bit more serious. Flashing lights, pained expressions, screaming and shouting – we were now well and truly into the knockout stages.
You can do all the net practice you like, but out in the middle it’s a different matter entirely. I proved myself a useful partner at home, picking up singles and keeping the partnership ticking along, but once in hospital I froze. All padded up with nowhere to go, I stood paralysed at the non-striker’s end as my darling wife held firm in the face of an almighty onslaught. Time and again she went down; the physio told her to retire hurt, to accept a runner, but she would not budge. She stared back at the bowler with a determined glare, took a deep breath and re-marked her guard.
The moment of triumph, when it came, was strangely muted. Despite having had my eyes fixed on this life-changing landmark for so long, I hadn’t really considered how I might react when it finally arrived. Should I look to the heavens and thank the Almighty? Get down on my knees and kiss the pitch? Or embark on a lap of honour, arms aloft, twirling my bat to the four corners of the stadium?
Nothing has been the same since. They say you never forget your first – a monkey off the back, an unsullied glimpse of a dazzling future, your place in the world secure forever. There will undoubtedly be low points – dips in form, tantrums, bad decisions, horrific collapses, entire days lost to bad weather. But a platform has been set, and now we must make hay while our son shines.18 Appeals
Being as so many people seem to have very clear ideas about what England did wrong in the West Indies, we thought it might be nice to list some of the mistakes that England made that we too would have made – a kind of wilful spurning of hindsight, if you will.
We’d have selected Jonathan Trott
We like to believe that psychological problems can be overcome in the same way that technical problems can be overcome and that the correct response isn’t necessarily to automatically consign that player to the bin for evermore.
Trott made county runs last season, he made a double hundred on an A tour and the general feeling was that he seemed in decent physical and mental shape. He’s been one of the best batsmen England have had in recent years, England needed an opener and it didn’t seem so much of a stretch for a number three to open. So yes, we’d have picked him.
We’d have continued picking Jonathan Trott
Two Tests ain’t a lot of evidence on which to reject someone. Almost all batsmen are nervy at the start of their innings and Trott had at least managed a fifty in one of his four innings. We also wouldn’t have felt too great about bringing Adam Lyth in with an implicit message that he might only get four innings to prove himself. So yes, we’d have picked Trott for the third Test.
We’d have picked Moeen Ali
He’s been England’s main Test spinner and overall he’s done well. He was fit, he’d played some cricket; James Tredwell had done okay, but he only ever seemed like a stopgap. So yes, we’d have picked Moeen Ali and thinking about it, we’d probably make that mistake again. It still seems unlikely that he’d bowl so badly in the West Indies’ third Test run chase.
And what else?
We’d also have made a bunch of terrible decisions that England didn’t make, only we sadly can’t prove the stupidity of them because they never played out in real life.
We wouldn’t have played Gary Ballance at number three, for example, because we wouldn’t have put him that high last summer.
We’d have left Stuart Broad out of the first Test team and he doubtless wouldn’t have returned to take 4-61 in the second.
We’d have picked Rob Key.
We’d have had fielders in ridiculous attacking positions and conceded shitloads of runs.
We’d have brought Jimmy back on when it wasn’t the time to bring Jimmy back on.
We’d have bowled Trott in every innings.
We’d have bowled Ballance in every innings.
We’d have burst into tears when Nasser Hussain interviewed us.
We’d have eaten too much at breakfast and been unable to concentrate properly during the match.
We’d have bollocked/not bollocked/encouraged/challenged/ignored Jimmy Anderson before his second Test clinching spell. We’re not sure which worked, or even if anybody did anything. But whatever someone did or didn’t do, make no mistake, we wouldn’t or would have done it. Plus we’d have done and not done a bunch of other critical things, undermining England’s chances.
Without the benefit of hindsight, it’s important that we face up to our mistakes.41 Appeals
Our proper Jonathan Trott retirement piece is over on All Out Cricket. Other than that, here are two old posts which sum up different aspects of a top, top player.
The first focuses on the sheer relentlessness of the man – surely his defining quality. If we have a happier memory of not watching cricket than going to bed with Jonathan Trott batting in an Ashes Test Down Under and waking up to find him still doing so, we don’t know what it is.
The second is an appreciation of his bowling, which we’ll miss almost as much as his batting. Many a tense moment has been marked by a ‘get Trott on’ tweet from this writer. You can’t beat a bit of dobble at a crucial juncture in an innings.5 Appeals
We can’t understand it. It seems such an obvious solution. Captain Hindsight wouldn’t have made all the obvious mistakes that Peter Moores made.
Maybe England’s loss would have been embarrassing if the opposition had been as mediocre as they were infamously branded, but this West Indies side seemed to us to be much better than that. They’ll surely make real progress until their next internecine conflict, at which point all the good work will be undone. They’re not dissimilar to England in that regard.
There are the usual calls for revolution, but England tend to make significant changes after every high profile defeat. There comes a point where it’s change itself which is holding back the side.
Moeen Ali should never have played
Moeen Ali was getting a lot of criticism yesterday. He certainly bowled badly – self-consciously, perhaps – but it’s also true that spinners get harshly judged for failing on a turning pitch in the final innings in a way that an opening bowler failing to exploit the new ball does not. You’re very alone and there’s no chance to make up for poor bowling later on. Moeen is also unfortunate enough to be an all-rounder. An all-rounder gets twice as many chances to fail.
After the match, Nasser Hussain conducted an interview with Peter Moores in which he looked like he was about to drive a broken bottle into the England coach’s neck at any moment. He asked about the absence of Adil Rashid. We’ve been desperate to see Rashid play, but not because we feel absolute certainty that he’d have won the game for England. The question therefore seemed to amount to: “Would you have preferred to have been slagged off for selecting Adil Rashid?”
Give us what we want
As George Dobell said the other day, hindsight is Twenty20. A lot of the people moaning now are those who were previously moaning about the absence of Stokes, Moeen and Buttler – players who are all now in the side. Whenever England lose, the reason, to them, is obvious. But we can never dip into alternative universes to find out what would have happened had things been done differently. Only the coach finds his decisions exposed by reality. Some were good, some were bad, but we at least can’t rouse ourself to outrage. If nothing else, we hugely enjoyed this Test match, last day and all.
Michael Vaughan, the King of Populist Opinion, has expressed an interest in the new director of cricket job. Doubtless he’ll reject it because they didn’t create quite the right job description and will add this to his list of obvious problems with obvious solutions, but maybe England should kowtow to him.
They should give Vaughan the job and let him select the side. He can even put it to a public vote on Twitter to ensure it remains populist enough (“Fav for Plunkett, RT for Wood”). Give him complete control. Let him decide everything so that when England lose we can all agree to stop whinging on, pretending that the solutions were always obvious. Maybe then people can get back to enjoying Test matches, win or lose, without revelling in the latter as being some sort of proof in the flawlessness of their world view.27 Appeals