KP: Method or madness?

A bright new dawn peeks over the horizon of English cricket. Well no, it’s another huge raincloud coming to dump some more misery on the ECB and its media machine, which has been pumping furiously to try and clear the knee-deep sludge which is starting to smell pretty nasty. To put it lightly, it’s been one of the worst winters on record. On the field, the team has been thrashed in every which way it is possible to be thrashed. Off the field, it’s looking like some of the worst imaginings of Hieronymous Bosch. Whichever way you look, this is a team in disarray. Its coach has resigned, its captain shell-shocked, its vice-captain dropped, its senior batsman mentally unfit for the rigours of the game and its world-class spinner retired. Yet through all of this, the attention is instead on Kevin Pietersen, as it has been for the past eight-and-a-half years.

We cannot claim to know what goes on in the England dressing room – the latest ECB statement reinforces this notion by saying we’re not supposed to. However, there are some signs that are pretty easy to read. Here are some pretty logical deductions for you to consider:

1) A team does not drop its best batsman, a man who change the course of a Test match in a few breathless hours, without good reason, especially an England team in need of experienced heads as it attempts to rebuild;

2) The people that made the decision to drop KP knew more about what went on in the dressing-room than the people pontificating about it in tomorrow’s chip-wrapper;

3) The England management are not total morons. This one we can’t overstate. Seriously. There’s a reason they’re paid lots of money to do their jobs;

4) In the absence of a clear, major incident to warrant his exclusion from the team, Pietersen’s conduct must have been considered been so detrimental to the dressing-room over a sustained period of time that the decision to drop him was more palatable than the inevitable media shitstorm that the ECB knew would come and the loss of his considerable talent. Short term pain for long term gain.

Some of the media coverage over the last few days has been ridiculously over-hyped and very ill-informed. Ed Smith’s article for the BBC website is the most balanced we’ve seen. The perception from the media at large seems to be that the ECB is being run by men scarcely intelligent enough have evolved from sucking mud at the bottom of ponds.

One criticism is that England are doing what they did with David Gower all over again – losing their flair player. There is an argument that as a professional sports team, they are in the entertainment business first and foremost. We accept that English cricket may be less exciting, and less marketable in the short term without Pietersen. But stability is more important in the longer term. KP is another in the long line of flawed geniuses sport produces. Natural ability often comes with strings attached. With him, some of the strings are on the field – his daring strokeplay and fearlessness are the flip side of the same coin which features recklessness and arrogance, as seen in five out of the six dismissals he succumbed to while the Ashes were at stake. Some of the strings, meanwhile, are off the field – we don’t have the insider knowledge to say exactly what they are, but the results of them are plain to see. For whatever reason, his influence in the dressing-room was not a positive one.

We have no doubt that those in charge would have fed all of the factors on both sides into the machine, including Pietersen’s increasingly dicky knees, Flower’s bias against KP, the cost financially and from a PR standpoint of excommunicating its most exciting player, the barren wastelands of the middle order that would result and the need for a fresh start and a fresh philosophy, and the machine would have spat out the outcome. In the ECB’s view, the scales have tipped so that the benefits Pietersen brings are now outweighed by the drawbacks. For them, he’s not worth the hassle, he’s not going to be around for more than a couple of years and he might not regain his form of 2012 again anyway.

When you look at this dispassionately, the ECB’s decision is an eminently justifiable one whilst, at the same time (as Ed Smith put it), being one they don’t have to justify to anyone anyway. Unfortunately, in our view the media haven’t seen the method in the perceived madness, instead trying to whip up the story to sell as many papers as possible. In other words, doing their job, incidentally just like the ECB.

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