If Andrew Strauss thought he’d have a pleasant honeymoon period in his new Director of Cricket role at the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB), Kevin Pietersen had other ideas. As Strauss was partaking in his first interview with the media in the role Kevin Pietersen was piling the pressure on, smashing Leicestershire’s defenceless bowlers for 355 not out – his highest first class score.
Strauss said that “there is no trust” between Pietersen and the ECB. It’s an easy statement to make, and it’s certainly true that Pietersen has not been a model employee. In 2012 Pietersen was dropped from the national side after he admitted sending “provocative” text messages to members of the South African team, allegedly about Andrew Strauss himself (although he denied this). A few months later he was allowed back into the side, after a reintegration period. Pietersen was later sacked from the England side after the 5-0 thumping in the Ashes down under in 2014. His contract was terminated and he became a freelance player, securing deals in the Indian Premier League, the Caribbean Premier League, the t20 Blast and the Big Bash League.
He courted controversy again late last year with the release of his autobiography, which contained revelations about several of his former colleagues, including calling Matt Prior “a Dairylea triangle thinking he’s a Brie”. Many thought that any remote chance of Pietersen coming back to the national set up had evaporated with each criticism on those pages.
But then, there was hope.
Incoming ECB Chairman Colin Graves said in a press conference in March that anyone who gets runs in county cricket would be considered for selection. Following two meetings with Graves, Pietersen said, “He has told me he wants the best players playing for England and that there is a clean slate“. A superb century against low calibre opposition in Oxford was followed quickly by the triple ton against Leicestershire. Strauss’ decision on Pietersen was being made tougher and tougher. As Pietersen put the finishing touches on his immense 355 not out, Strauss was only a few miles away at Lord’s confirming that he was closing the door on the maverick’s selection for the Ashes summer. It had been expected – numerous papers had carried the news in that morning’s press. But that’s where my problems start with the board.
The day before Strauss’ conference he had had a private meeting with Pietersen. During this meeting Strauss told him exactly what he told the press the following day. But not thirty minutes after the meeting had this information been leaked to the press, and Pietersen denies that it was him. Granted, he could be lying through his teeth when he says this. But if he isn’t, then it isn’t the first time the ECB have leaked information the day before a press conference. Every man and his dog knew that Peter Moores (the England coach) was going to be sacked before he did. The same goes for Alistair Cook when he lost the limited overs captaincy late last year. It’s not a great trait to have.
There’s also the small matter of Strauss’ reasoning for not bringing Pietersen back. Citing a lack of trust would suggest that the ECB had little to no interest in bringing Pietersen back into the fold. In face they aren’t even considering him for the rest of the summer. Kevin Pietersen had a contract for the Indian Premier League side Sunrisers Hyderabad that he effectively tore up when he was told that he had a chance to get back into the England team. What was that contract worth? £250,000.
That’s right. Kevin Pietersen tore up a £250,000 contract because he had been assured that he still had a shot at an England place. Now it transpires that that it’s unlikely that that was ever the case. The ECB cite a lack of trust, but perhaps they mean that it’s not Pietersen they can’t trust, it’s Pietersen who can’t trust them. They talk about a lack of trust. Yet Andrew Strauss was perfectly happy to offer Pietersen an advisory role in the limited overs set up. In what world can you not trust someone enough to be in your team, and yet still think they can be with the team on a daily basis? It just doesn’t sound quite right.
Don’t get me wrong – I think some of the stuff Pietersen did was unacceptable. The “textgate” scandal will always stick in the throat. But we are talking about one of England’s greatest ever batsmen. And an England team at the moment that is currently floundering, unable to beat a West Indies team (one that was stripped bare of their top players, who are playing in the IPL). If it were me I’d have said that at the moment the middle order is the only part of the team that’s working, and as a result currently there is no place for Pietersen. But I certainly wouldn’t rule anything out.
I would have also said he needs to continue getting runs. There’s a difference between that (which shows that you’re still interested and weren’t lying about it earlier in the season) and closing the door on someone who could still be valuable to this England squad. As it stands I don’t think he can play for the country again. It would need the board to swallow too much pride.
And so to crucial test series against New Zealand and Australia. It’s seven tests to save Alistair Cook’s captaincy. It’s seven tests for Andrew Strauss to show that he means business. Unfortunately I can’t see either happening, and we could be in for a long and difficult summer.
At least our players trust each other. I just hope there’s not a sponsor’s function they’re expected to attend.
Or an Ashes series to win.