Trust me, if ever a ‘trust world cup’ is arranged, the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) will win it hands down, with their new director of cricket, Andrew Strauss, getting the ‘champion of champions’ medal. Who says runs and wickets win you cricket matches? If you’re an England cricketer, you’re judged by your trust quotient. Eighty-one years ago, they ostracised Harold Larwood for following his captain Douglas Jardine’s commands. Last Tuesday, they dropped the already sacked Kevin Pietersen for falling out with his captains, Strauss and Alastair Cook. Larwood was the son of a coal miner. Pietersen is an ‘outsider’—born and bred in Natal—who refused to conform to the existing order.
England cricket thrives in mediocrity. It doesn’t allow extra leeways to special talents. It can’t handle their stars. Wally Hammond, England’s greatest-ever cricketer, had been branded ‘irritable’. Geoffrey Boycott was dropped for his ‘selfish’ batting. Ian Botham was castigated for frequenting tabloid front pages. Strauss sounded like a public school head boy giving a damning verdict on an enfant terrible. He started with a round of praise—a deliberate and mischievous attempt to throw a red herring. “The truth about Kevin is that he’s a phenomenal cricketer.” After scoring 8,181 Test runs and 23 hundreds, Pietersen doesn’t need Strauss’ certificate to prove his greatness.
Dismissal followed. “Over months and years, trust has been eroded between Kevin Pietersen and the ECB. There’s a massive trust issue between me and Kevin. While there’s no trust between Kevin and the ECB, it is our opinion he cannot feature in our short-term plans,” said Strauss.
Pietersen knew beforehand, for this was precisely what he was told at a private meeting between him, Strauss and ECB CEO Tom Harrison on Monday. Pietersen called on the ECB decision-makers, unbeaten overnight on 326 for Surrey against Leicestershire. He was advised to hang up his boots. Incredibly, in the same meeting, Pietersen was offered an advisory role for ODIs, which he rejected. Not trustworthy as a cricketer, but good enough to become an adviser! The whole saga reeks of double standards.
Strauss took charge last week and promptly dismissed Peter Moores. In fact, the report of his sacking was leaked a day before, during England’s washed-out ODI against Ireland. Who leaked it to the media? How did the media have all the details of a closed-door meeting before the official press conference? Isn’t it a breach of trust intertwined with hypocrisy?
Pietersen rightly said he was ‘misled’ by the ECB. Here’s what he wrote in his Daily Telegraph column: “I had a meeting with Andrew Strauss and Tom Harrison (the new chief executive of the England and Wales Cricket Board) at a hotel in London on Monday night. I expressed my fear to Tom last week when he asked for the meeting that I did not want to sit in a room and be told that I was not going to be picked for England again.
“Tom said: ‘No, no, no you have had one of England’s greatest careers and we need to work together’. So, of course, I agreed to the meeting.
“Yet it now looks clear Tom knew exactly what Strauss was going to tell me. I messaged Tom after the meeting and asked him why he got me into a hotel knowing precisely what I was going to be told and having already explicitly asked him if that was going to be the case. ‘You talk about trust’, I said. He simply replied: ‘I am sorry you feel that way, Kevin’.
“They have used the word trust to justify not selecting me, well, trust is a two-way thing. I couldn’t believe just half an hour after I had my meeting, the result of it was on the internet and on the BBC airwaves. Now I certainly didn’t tell anybody, so who did? They say they don’t trust me but how can anybody trust them?”
Who has the mistrust in Pietersen? The world knows he and Cook don’t see eye-to-eye and the ECB seems to be under an obligation to protect their captain’s interests. But who else? Jimmy Anderson, Stuart Broad, Ian Bell, Joe Root? England ODI captain Eoin Morgan welcomed Pietersen after they became teammates at Sunrisers Hyderabad.
In any case, we are talking about grown-up individuals here. International sport is not an arena to capture moments of mateship.
Strauss allowed his personal acrimony to rule the roost, both with Moores and Pietersen. He had issues with the former during his first stint as England coach. And not many moons ago, he called Pietersen a ‘c…’ during the MCC versus Rest of the World game. But ECB chief Colin Graves should have intervened. He was the man to extend an olive branch to Pietersen, saying that if he returns to County cricket and scores runs, there would be a ‘clean slate’.
As Pietersen mentioned, he had ‘two phone conversations’ with Graves and, accordingly, he gave up a significant majority of his R2-crore IPL 8 contract, joined Surrey for free and scored heavily. He started off with 170 against Oxford followed by 19 and 53 not out against Glamorgan, 32 and eight not out against Essex and 355 not out against Leicestershire. What more he could have done to acquire a ‘clean slate’? Pietersen was shamefully taken for a ride by the powers that be in England cricket. Disgrace!
It would have been great to see an IPL reunion. But it’s not happening because of a calf muscle injury. Young Indian players would have hugely benefitted from his presence. From Virat Kohli to Unmukt Chand, ask everyone and they will tell you how helpful Pietersen has been as a senior pro. Also, an Indian sojourn might have helped him find comfort and solace.
PS: People keep telling this correspondent there’s no point in losing sleep over something which, ostensibly, is the ECB’s internal matter. Wrong. Greatness transcends geographic boundaries. Pietersen is a diamond that must be treasured.