The art of being a team player, Pietersen-style

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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.

Further reading

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’.


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  1. Very good article, spot on. Here is another:

    An extract:

    “…in England the greater sin is to be seen to give your wicket away with a loose stroke rather than leaving a straight delivery and allowing it to hit your stumps. Failure is accepted so long as it is not accompanied by flair. Genius is doubted and distrusted and, in England, you are forgiven for turning your back and going on a rebel tour – Gooch, Gatting, Graveney et al – but not for rocking the boat. In England, success has been a brief interlude in a general drama of failure.”

    The disaster for England in this decision is not that KP won’t play again – that could have happened due to an injury. The disaster is that the decision demonstrates unequivocally that English cricket is in the hands of losers and also-rans. 1990s here we come.

    1. Yeah, we liked that paragraph when we read it.

      Many English people’s innate distrust of proactive cricket comes to the fore when times are tough. They want people to “dig in” and anything else is perceived as irresponsible.

      Remember Michael Vaughan’s England team? Players were encouraged to play almost irresponsibly.

      If Cook, Carberry and Root have all been dismissed for sod all, chances are a watchful innings isn’t the order of the day. You need a mix of approaches, not homogeneity.

    2. Information regarding the cause of his sacking does seem to be dribbling out. The latest is that he had a “rant” about Flower. So it does appear that he has been cut for his manners and nothing else.

      English cricket has long been seen as nothing more than an extension of public school life for a fortunate few. Pietersen represented a challenge to that. His departure proves that nothing will change.

  2. The only thing that is clear about this whole episode is that Piers Moron was, is, and always will be one of the most objectionable people on the face of the planet.

  3. “Why can’t you be more of a team player, like Alan or Deano?”

    why this swipe at Alan and Deano?

  4. In the same Telegraph article:
    “Instead of netting as they usually would two days before a Test, Cook decided to hold a physical fitness session, having told the team that part of the reason they were losing was because they were not as fit as Australia. After the session Pietersen told Cook that the team were fitter than he had known at any other time in his career and felt that they should have been working on skills instead.”

    So at 4-0 down and on New Year’s Eve Cook felt we could suddenly get fit enough to beat Australia… This has the dead hand of fitness bore Gooch all over it, and the sooner he gets the KP treatment the better. I’m mystified as to how someone who presumably takes responsibility for our batting “plans” has escaped proper scrutiny so far – are too many hacks ex-England team-mates or ex-Essex?

    I’ve always admired Alastair Cook, not least for his single-minded ability to make the absolute most of a fairly limited and flaw-prone technique. But it seems that he is falling into the bad habits of his mentor. And that can only mean another 90’s race to the bottom, which is going to be painful to watch.

    1. When times are tough, people fall back on what has served them well. They don’t always understand that this might not always be the answer for others.

  5. Probably safe to say the entire England set-up is an absolute mess. Reading that, I’ve actually some sympathy for KP, given it appears they held a meeting without Flower, then some kind soul went and told him what had been said, possibly embellishing a few points.

    Should just sack the lot of them.

  6. This whole firestorm has almost certainly come as a surprise to the ECB, who probably thought they would get away with the announcement with no repercussions. That in itself is characteristically stupid and out-of-touch. All they have done, of course, is focus everyone’s attention on the rest of the English cricket set-up.

    Without a convincing argument for Pietersen’s exclusion they’re in a pile of trouble. If they had a convincing argument they’d have told everyone what it was, so I think it is safe to assume they haven’t got one. And that, rather unfortunately for the ECB, raises questions about the suitability of everyone associated with the decision.

    Cook’s credibility as captain is absolutely shot. If Ashley Giles was involved, his credibility as coach is likewise shot. Paul Downton’s credibility as a test wicket-keeper didn’t survive his test wicket-keeping career; his credibility as team-thingy is now very dead.

    I can well imagine a series of crisis meetings at Lord’s today, in which a set of well-paid cricket executives stand like rabbits in headlights in front of a TV screen as the world outside their committee room is revealed to them for the first time ever. After some days of this they will realise the utter, bewildering stupidity of what they did. Then they’ll panic again. By the end of this process, Michael Vaughan will be coach, Matt Prior will be captain and KP will be batting at #4. Giles Clarke will still have a job, though.

    1. “After some days of this they will realise the utter, bewildering stupidity of what they did.”

      Bert, while I wish everything you have written would turn true, I’m afraid your well made comments will fail to appear.

      Execs don’t change in such a magic fashion. If they did it would make a carriage turning into a pumpkin at midnight look like cheap gift from a christmas cracker. Once the decision is made they will fight to the death to prove it to be correct. If this becomes an impossibility they will simply resort to the ‘Jedi mind trick’ approach and just keep on saying they made the right decision until we are too tired to argue.

      There is, however, one thing that really got me stumped at this moment. The England management seem to be shouting from the rooftops about the need for youth and all that, but why? The whole lot of them seem to be acting like a set of 9 year olds on the school field anyway! Are they not wanting some ‘bigger boys’ to come in and sort things out?

  7. So, all of this came about because we were playing like shite. Can’t someone in Da Management please work on why we were playing like shite, rather than we they can’t all get on nicely? I would guess that jetisoning our best batsman is not a good solution to the playing like shite issue.

  8. I like how Geoff Boycott is blaming Pietersen for being “an individual” and not a team player. Fun stuff.

    1. Boycs is hilarious. He kept complaining about Chris Rogers being boring during the Ashes.

      The guy must really hate himself as his own traits drive him crazy when he sees them in someone else.

  9. From the outside can I just add how much everyone else is looking forward to the brave new world of the magnificent ECB controlling one third of world cricket! How lucky we all are.

  10. Onward and downward.

    At least there’s a Leicestershire man in charge of selection. So not all bad.

  11. Whitaker’s message, “The ODI team and the England T20 team has played a number of matches over the past 12 months or so without Kevin and on occasions has performed very well so we would hope that is still going to be the case going forward,”.

    That’s alright then. I’ll put a tenner on.

    1. Thus completely missing the point. He hasn’t been dropped. He’s been made “unavailable for selection”. He could average 130 in the IPL and 150 for Surrey and become the world’s best batsman by a country mile and they still wouldn’t pick him. That’s the point, and England’s new chief selector thinks that he can explain this situation by discussing the one thing that they ECB has made explicit is the least relevant thing – his form. They are a bunch of complete halfwits.

      But of course, as is plain to the world by now, the actual reasons for sacking him can’t be announced because they are pathetic and childish and will result in eternal shame and ridicule for everyone involved.

  12. it’s amazing really. in the space of one (record-breakingly atrocious) tour, england have gone from being a great team about to seal their place in crciket history to a shambles on the verge of heading right back to the dark days of the 90s. at least, that is what we are all now expecting and assuming: anything else at this stage would be a pleasant surprise.

    how did that happen?! obviously, this is exactly what the admins will have been asking themselves (or rather each other, desperately hoping someone was going to come up with the correct answer). clearly, none of *them* could have been at fault though… right?

  13. Who are they going to blame when the turbulent priest has gone to a better place?

    By better place, I mean the IPL obviously.

  14. This just in. But someone had to have told Flower what transpired.

    @InnoBystander: So the Melbourne meeting that Flower knew nothing about was arranged by Flower… #Headmaster #ECBClowns

  15. All this bullshit about ‘trust’. What exactly do you need to trust your teammates to do?

    Not to run you out? Not to deliberately drop catches?

    i.e. to play the fucking game. And Pietersen was better at playing it than anyone else in the side.

    I don’t get it. Frankly, the ECB and the England team can fuck right off. I have no interest in what they’re up to right now. I honestly don’t give a shit what they get up to, including Tests. I’ve had it. The ECB can fuck off, Selvey can fuck off, Cook can fuck off. Fuck the lot of them.

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