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?
The day in summary: James Anderson earned two wickets through being James Anderson, Moeen Ali earned two wickets through not being James Anderson and Chris Jordan earned nothing. Oh, and Stuart Broad got three.
Play was reminiscent of the later days of Curtly Ambrose and Courtney Walsh when everything seemed to be defined by what happened when they weren’t bowling. There was one match going on when Broad and Anderson had the ball and then India had to work out what to do when they didn’t.
Against Chris Woakes, they took the runs and survived. Against Chris Jordan, they just sort of watched it happen – for it wasn’t Jordan’s best day. Against Moeen Ali, they hit a few easy boundaries, took a few easy singles and occasionally committed suicide.
The upshot is that Anderson and Broad have bowled more than the others, like usual. Anderson has looked far better for having had a few days off and Broad has too, so let’s now watch that slowly drip away before our eyes, like an upended jar of honey trapped behind some sort of electrified forcefield which would fry us were we to reach out to restore order.
Broad’s already showing signs of being shagged out. This is an issue because he does seem to have a bowling speed threshold below which he doesn’t take wickets.
Andrew Strauss’s inadvertent portmanteau of ‘rangy’ and ‘gangly’ was gleefully highlighted by Mike Atherton.
Maybe you should just stick to four-letter words, Andrew.
Apparently Andrew Strauss has been caught calling Kevin Pietersen ‘the C-word’ during a commentary stint. He thought he was off-air, but they were actually still broadcasting in Australia.
Being as this is Strauss, we’re presuming that the word used was ‘cad’. We’re quite taken aback by this. Our guess would have been that he would consider Pietersen a ‘bounder’ or possibly a ‘rogue’.
In the highly unlikely event that we’ve picked up a new reader in the last year, we should say that we have a feature on this website entitled animals being conspicuously indifferent to cricket.
Lemon Bella’s cats, StraussCat and Meowcus Trescattick, have appeared on several occasions and we’re honoured to be able to present their verdict on Andrew Strauss’s retirement from cricket.
Lemon Bella writes:
This is how StraussCat took the news of his namesake’s retirement:
Reliable and steadfastly predictable in his conspicuous indifference, he simply focused on that particularly itchy, hard-to-reach bit. I salute him for his years of indifferent achievement and will allow him to retire with the grace befitting such a loyal servant
Meowcus Trescattick, on the other hand, was worringly interested in this news:
Look at him! Look at how perky and intrigued he is!
We may have to look look elsewhere for indifference from now on, because this is clearly the sort of cat who might develop an opinion about Jonny Bairstow.
It’s interesting that so many people took yesterday’s post at face value. We’ll come clean: it is not our actual stance on the Pietersen issue. There are bits of it we might agree with to some extent, but for the most part it’s an extreme position we adopted in order to make an entirely different point.
It was intended as a parody of recent newspaper pieces covering the Strauss-Pietersen issue. We wrote it because we don’t like it when the boundary between news and opinion is blurred and because we don’t like it when the media as a whole seems to favour one particular version of events.
It was written as if we were a Little Englander. However, the twist is that in this parallel universe, Strauss is seen as the villain while Pietersen is portrayed as an England hero. The facts are the same, but they are presented differently.
It’s wrong to say that every writer has an agenda, but they do all have opinions. We’re seeing a great deal more opinion than news regarding Pietersen and Strauss. That’s fine, but we don’t like it when opinions are sneaked in on the sly. There’s a certain amount of insidious rhetoric on display when it comes to this particular story.
The point we were making with yesterday’s post is that the same information can be presented in different ways. Clearly there are differences between the backgrounds of Pietersen and Strauss, but you could, if you wanted to, make an issue of Strauss’s place of birth – or Andy Flower’s for that matter.
Similarly, Strauss took a holiday in the middle of the season and in the middle of a crisis. This wasn’t a massive crime, particularly in light of what followed, but we can only imagine how the press would have reacted if Pietersen had done the same. Strauss took a break. Pietersen would have ‘controversially’ taken a break.
That use of ‘controversially’ is the kind of thing we’re talking about. Certain vocabulary can give rise to subtle, perhaps accidental, attempts to persuade the reader that one party is ‘right’ and the other is ‘wrong’.
In The Sunday People, Dave Kidd outlines how England’s “South Africa-born star” criticised James Taylor during the Lord’s Test. No real details are given, but this doesn’t stop Derek Pringle from saying that it “plumbs new depths of obnoxious behaviour” in The Telegraph. You read those two pieces and you can’t help but have a certain perception of what happened – but based on what?
We know many writers are paid primarily to provide opinion, but that’s not necessarily how people read their articles. Report on a new development and it comes across as being ‘news’. It is then possible to colour that news through the words you choose to use and the related events you choose to recount.
Clearly, there are far more serious media problems than how a feud between two cricketers is being presented. However, at the same time, the issues this raises and the methodology being used are common to other, more significant stories, so it pays to be aware of this kind of thing. You shouldn’t read ANYONE’S words and assume they are fair, balanced and well thought-out. After all, most writers and opinion-formers are complete idiots.
Andrew Strauss retires from cricket. If Nasser Hussain was ‘do as I say’ and Michael Vaughan was ‘relax and play how you want’ then Strauss was ‘for Christ’s sake, don’t do anything silly’.
He was a bit establishment for our tastes and his interviews were even more bland and predictable than his on-field decisions, but people involved with the England team rate him highly and they know him better than we do. There’s also the simple fact that England won a great many matches under his captaincy and that is, after all, the entire point.
The Ashes victory in Australia was clearly the high point, but he also ensured England were all but unbeatable at home during his tenure. That changed this summer and this is significant. It’s hard to avoid the sense that everything’s kind of falling to pieces at the minute. Many have pointed out that few captains leave on a high, but there have been smoother handovers. Cook finds himself with a great deal of work to do.
In many ways this is a further test of Strauss’s captaincy. The on-field stuff’s finished, but the long-term planning for which he is so well-regarded will continue to come under scrutiny. The succession-planning has already given England their next captain, so that bit’s better than usual. However, set against that is the fact that the team are losing and have lost a major player because they couldn’t find a way of getting on with him.
This isn’t to nitpick. It’s just to point out that long-term planning isn’t a matter of aiming for an Ashes series and clapping yourself on the back if you win it. If you’re an England captain, it also involves ensuring the house isn’t a complete shit-tip for the next tenant.
We’re disappointed at the nature of his exit, because the drama and goodwill that ensues masks failings and means he doesn’t have to answer for the side’s deterioration over the last year. However, overall, we are very happy with Andrew Strauss’s performance as England captain. We’ll give him a B+
Johannesburg-born Andrew Strauss is to keep England’s star player in limbo a little while longer after controversially extending his family holiday rather than returning for much-needed clear-the-air talks.
Kevin Pietersen was man of the match in the last Test he played and is keen to help secure victories for his nation in all three formats. However, the side’s embittered management group seems intent on alienating him. Pietersen’s efforts to resolve the situation have been flatly ignored and there has been no sign of any intent to address this pressing situation.
Already Pietersen has missed out on being named in England’s World Twenty20 squad – a competition he was keen to help England win, having been the player of the tournament during their 2010 victory. It now smacks of pure malice that Strauss should continue to keep him waiting when the batsman’s entire future is in jeopardy.
Strauss has averaged just 33.94 over the last three years, whereas Pietersen has averaged almost 50 in the same period. However, there is a clique at the heart of the England team and Strauss is an integral part of it. Unfortunately for him, Pietersen – an individual and a once-in-a-lifetime cricketer – is not.
England’s finest batsman has been made to feel like an outsider in his own dressing room and is being omitted for reasons that have nothing to do with sport. It is hard to avoid the conclusion that Team England is nothing but a cosy old boys’ club with South African-born Strauss as the chairman and the Zimbabwean Andy Flower as the president.
A bland, featureless room. Kevin Pietersen and Andrew Strauss sit side-by-side facing a desk, behind which sits a relationship counsellor.
Counsellor: So, what brings you here?
Strauss: We’re having some issues with our relationship.
Counsellor: Have you been together long?
Strauss: A few years.
Counsellor: Okay, well, the strain can begin to show when you live in each other’s pockets for a number of years.
Pietersen: [Sulkily] I’m not living in his pocket.
Counsellor: Let’s try and get to the bottom of what’s going on in the relationship. How is it that you know things aren’t going very well at the moment?
Strauss: Well, we haven’t been speaking much of late and as a consequence, we recently took the decision to separate.
Counsellor: Relationships are all about communication. That could be one of the major problems. Can I ask whether either or both of you have trouble expressing yourselves?
Pietersen: He does.
Strauss: I express myself. The difference between you and me is that I express myself in a calm, controlled manner.
Counsellor: It’s important to exchange ideas without things descending into an argument. Conflict is counterproductive.
Strauss: I agree. I think it’s vital that we let the dust settle, take stock and then carry out a full review.
Pietersen: Listen to him. He’s so cold.
Counsellor: What do you mean by that, Kevin?
Pietersen: He’s so emotionless. I can’t stand it.
Counsellor: How does his attitude make you feel?
Pietersen: It makes me feel unimportant. There’s no spark any more. I honestly don’t know whether he still loves me or not.
Counsellor: How do you react to that, Andrew? Do you still love Kevin?
Strauss: Look, I don’t think we should commit to making firm statements while emotions are still running high. It would be far better to let the dust settle, take stock and then carry out a full review.
Pietersen: You see? You see what I mean? It’s like trying to have a relationship with a stone or a rock.
Strauss: Stones and rocks are much the same thing.
Pietersen: You’re always criticising me!
Counsellor: Okay, okay, let’s just calm down a minute. We’re just trying to explore the issue at the moment. Let’s try and establish the facts rather than falling out with each other.
Counsellor: Now, Kevin. What would it take for you to feel happier in this relationship?
Pietersen: Honestly? I want to feel that I’m needed and I want to believe that he still loves me.
Counsellor: Okay, now Andrew. What would it take for you to be able to once again get in touch with your loving feelings for Kevin? I’m presuming you wouldn’t be here if they weren’t still in there somewhere.
Strauss: It’s a matter of trust. I just don’t know whether I trust Kevin any more.
Counsellor: How so?
Strauss: I just feel like he’s let me down recently. I feel like there’s a fundamental lack of respect for me and that has led him to seek solace with other cricketers.
Counsellor: Well that’s potentially very serious. How do you respond to that, Kevin?
Pietersen: I’m going crazy in this relationship. I need to talk to someone. I need to get my emotions out somehow.
Strauss: This is no time for emotion.
Pietersen: It never is with you. When is it that I’m supposed to express my emotions?
Strauss: Once we’ve let the dust settle, taken stock and carried out a full review.
Pietersen: So I can get emotional then, can I?
Strauss: I really think it’s important that we not get too emotional about this. It’s more important that we take the right decisions for the future of the England cricket team.
Pietersen: Am I not part of the future of the England cricket team?
Strauss: Like I say, we really need to carry out a full review.
Counsellor: I’m really sorry, but I’m not sure I can do anything to salvage this relationship.
Mike Selvey made an interesting point in his third Test match report cum series review.
“No captain of any consequence does so in isolation. Instead he is a facilitator relying heavily on the sort of input of ideas from his bowlers that cannot come from elsewhere.”
When he isn’t scoring runs, much is made of Strauss’s influence as a captain, but what of other players’ influence on captaincy decisions? The impact of that is even less measurable.
Selvey points out that Tim Bresnan was the senior bowler in the last Test with all of 14 caps to his name and it is notable that when England were in the field, the wheels came off, rolled away and spontaneously combusted. Jimmy Anderson’s presence as a bowler may or may not have helped, as might his presence as a smart bloke with a few ideas floating round his head.
This got us wondering just how much impact the latter has on Test results. In an attempt to investigate, we checked Strauss’s captaincy record with and without James Anderson in the side. This excludes earlier Tests where he was a stand-in captain.
So since being made England’s permanent Test captain, Strauss has never won a Test without Jimmy Anderson, but has drawn two and lost one when he’s been out of the side. Being as one of those draws was Edgbaston Rainfest 2012, there’s nothing too conclusive in that, but it is something to ponder.
In conclusion: cricket is still a team game and statistics don’t really tell you a right lot.