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Pietersen & ECB fail the test

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Mihir Bose | 15:51 UK time, Thursday, 8 January 2009

The only victors in the current shambles that is English cricket are the players. It is their power which has dictated the course of this extraordinary story.

Kevin Pietersen, as captain, thought he could dictate to his bosses who the national team coach should be, but he had to go when he realised many of his team-mates did not back him.

Faced with a challenge to its authority from its own captain, the England and Wales Cricket Board used dressing room player power to get rid of Pietersen.

It is a painful victory, if it can be called a victory at all, for the ECB, because it proves the much vaunted management structure put in place following the Ashes debacle of 2007 has just not worked. If it had, this rift, which has torn English cricket apart, would surely not have emerged.

The ECB knew from the start that there were problems between the coach, Peter Moores, and captain Pietersen.

True, such problems are not uncommon. All cricket teams, not just England, have them. In the past, England have faced even more serious issues. But the ECB believed it had the management structure in place to cope with them.

And yet, despite the fact there had been ructions for months, it has not managed to deal with them.

Yes, Hugh Morris, the managing director of English cricket, had been working to sort them out and the ECB had kept it out of the media for a while, but that was only shoring up trouble.


Sure enough, when the rumblings leaked just before the year end, the ECB lost control of events. Since then it has been about damage limitation, but as Wednesday's shambles shows the board failed in this miserably.

It is interesting to note that even as late on Tuesday afternoon the most senior officials of the ECB had not given up hope that Morris could somehow bang the heads of Pietersen and Moores together.

At that stage four possible scenarios were being discussed. In order of probability they were:
Bang heads together and they both stay; Moores goes, Pietersen stays; Moores stays, Pietersen goes; they both go.

This last option was considered the least desirable and to be avoided if at all possible.

But what changed this situation very late on Tuesday was when Morris came back and reported to his board members.

He was meant to be on holiday until 12 January. Indeed his ECB office phone has a message to that effect. But ever since the story leaked he has been back at work and on the phone talking to all and sundry. Many of these calls were to England players who were, in effect, polled on this issue. What he discovered changed everything.

In a telephone conference call on Tuesday evening, he reported to the board that powerful elements in the England dressing room did not support Pietersen. Those individuals were not particularly enamoured at the way KP had used his newspaper column to make public his feelings about Moores.

This information was crucial to shaping the ECB strategy, but by then it was clear the first option, of banging heads together, would not work. It was also evident Moores could not carry on as coach. His position had been made untenable by the public disclosures; his record was not great; and not all the players were enthusiastic about him.

Had the affair not become public he would have carried on but since it had, his position was doomed.

But the lack of dressing-room support for the captain meant that the ECB could now take up the challenge by Pietersen to its authority - back me or back the coach.

Ever since the challenge had become public, the ECB knew it could not be seen to give in to it. Officials were concerned that if they did not react robustly they would be seen as weak and spineless, which would set a very dangerous precedent.

Long before this some of Pietersen's demands on becoming captain had surprised the ECB, demands no previous captain had ever made.

And even as Morris was polling the players there was increasing anger about Pietersen going public. ECB officials gleefully pointed to articles written by ex-England cricketers and captains critical of Pietersen.

So when Morris reported dressing-room unrest about the captain, the fourth option kicked in: both Pietersen and Moores should go. The one least likely on Tuesday afternoon became the only option hours later that evening.

And here Pietersen's own rather clumsy tactics, played into the hands of the ECB. The ECB decided that his ultimatum could be interpreted as an implied resignation statement - if you do not back me, I go.

True, the ECB was going to remove the coach but that would be presented as an independent decision and not one giving into Pietersen's ultimatum. You may say this is lame, but that is how the ECB saw it.

This turn of events completely foxed Pietersen. Not only had he not anticipated the lack of dressing room support, he had not expected that his ultimatum could be turned around into a resignation.

Much of Wednesday was spent working out how Pietersen's departure would be presented. In the end, Pietersen issued an extraordinary statement. He said he had not initially resigned but nevertheless he was now going.

Like much of what he has done it was all about Pietersen himself, nothing to do with the collective English cricket team.

He could have used the statement to say he had raised the issues of the coach, not just on his behalf, but for the sake of the team. And that he was doing it for the good of English cricket not just for his personal sake.

Instead his confused statement reinforced the image of a man with an enormous ego, who only thinks of himself. Not a trait you need in a leader - though in fairness, we have still to hear his version of events, which we need to sooner rather than later.

This whole sorry mess should though teach Pietersen a lot of lessons. Whether he will learn them or not is debatable but, for a start, the loss of the England captaincy will hit his pocket - estimates are put at as much as £500,000.

However, the biggest casualty of this mess must still be the ECB. The belief that it has a management structure that can deal with issues professionally has surely been shot to pieces. Now it has to improvise hurriedly to cope with a crisis it should have anticipated and in the end could not manage.

It is a crisis that will see the England team very likely go to the West Indies without a proper coach and with Hugh Morris talking on a more hands-on role, a crisis which leaves them in tatters at the start of an Ashes year.


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