The KP Saga – Part the First: The Dressing Room

Right, time to limber up, climb to the top of the ten-metre board and dive headlong into the KP debate.

Unless you’ve been living under several feet of rocks for the past few days, you’ve likely seen Kevin Pietersen’s got a book out and, in the spirit of shameless self-promotion, it’s full of juicy scandal about the inner-workings of English cricket. There’s lots and lots to say about all this, so we’re going to have to break it all down into a few blog posts. First up, an attempt to work out what was actually going on behind closed doors in the England dressing room.

For some reason our free copy of the autobiography hasn’t arrived yet, so what we have to go on are the various pieces splashed across every conceivable medium known to man (the Morse Code one is particularly enlightening) detailing every last moment of Kevin Pietersen’s acrimonious fallout with the England team. Anyway, this is our take. It’s as impartial as we can get it, and is an attempt to try and explain, justify or whatever what was going on in the dressing room.

We start with an assumption:

The aim of the England setup and players was to be the best team in the world throughout the entire period Pietersen was in the team. If they weren’t, they should all have packed up and gone and played Last Man Stands in the local park instead.

Right now, we’ve got that out of the way, on to the ensemble:

The ringmaster of this grand plan was a hard-nosed Zimbabwean who, to coin a phrase, had seen some s**t in his time. Andy Flower was the sort of guy who never lost sight of the aforementioned goal. His job was to turn his players into a cohesive unit that could win Test matches, thousands of ’em.

Now, while the easiest way to achieve this objective would be to have a bunch of mindless T-1000s who could go about destroying all opposition without repetition, hesitation or deviation, instead Flower was stuck with an old-fashioned variety show of a squad, including:

  • A handful of South Africans
  • A Geordie
  • A few grumpy but hard-working fast bowlers
  • The inevitable practical-joker, and
  • A couple of softly-spoken public schoolboys to instil some moral fibre into the players, point the bowlers in the right direction and tell them to… “NO, STUART, YOU ARE NOT AN ENFORCER, YOU ARE A BLOODY ENGLISH SEAM BOWLER. NOW PITCH IT UP.”

The trouble was that their personalities were as disparate as their backgrounds. They ranged from the scream-in-your-face ultra-extroverts of Graeme Swann and Matt Prior to the probably-iron-their-underpants introverts of Jonathan Trott, with everything in between (except Tim Bresnan, who defies categorisation, unless that category is pure, strained-through-a used-Tetley-teabag Yorkshireness). Each player in the team had got to the top by doing what their thing in their way extremely well, whether it be marking your guard eighty times an over, chatting loudly and incessantly, or playing outrageous one-footed shots through midwicket.

Flower’s approach to this motley crew was predicated on the basis that, if you want to be the best team in the world, you have to sell your soul a bit, unless you’re the 70s Calypso Cricket Windies side who were basically the Harlem Globetrotters of Mass Destruction. It was, in its most unadulterated form, an intense, teamwork-driven accountability. This played on the themes of an aggressive pace-battery that functioned as a predatory pack, a brilliantly crafty change-of-pace bowler and a batting line-up designed to be utterly impassable and ruthlessly efficient, rounded off with a wicketkeeper who not only kept the well-oiled machine turning in the field but could finish you off with the bat as well.

In amongst all this was Pietersen. We’ve discussed before that KP is not bound by the rules of everyone else. He does what he does in his way, and you can take it or leave it. Pietersen, like Boycott and (sacrilege though it is to even conceive of it) Bradman, was a great player built upon a relentless dedication and total mastery of his own game. All the reports were that Kevin was the hardest-working batsman in the side, constantly working to improve his game. But it was all about his game. We find it hard to believe that he ever was able to be part of the ethos that Flower wanted. If Matt Prior was the epitome and engine-room of Flower’s all-for-one and one-for-all approach, KP was the antithesis. It was all-for-Kevin and that’s it. He existed to make his team great through his own greatness.

Which was fine, whilst everything worked in equilibrium. Andrew Strauss, surely an underrated man-manager, had managed to realise Flower’s will and fashioned a team that worked and won, and then won some more. The bowlers were aggressive enough, the batsmen obdurate enough. The team was largely unchanged.

But you can see where this is going. A tipping point that we have identified as potentially being significant was the retirement of Paul Collingwood, which created instability where there had been very little. If we start with the rebuilding of the team following the 51 all out debacle against the West Indies, here are some stats:

In the 28 subsequent Tests (Feb 2009-Jan 2011) England played before Collingwood’s retirement (of which Collingwood missed only 2), England’s top 7 scored 12,740 runs @ 46.83 runs per wicket.

In the games following Collingwood’s retirement until Pietersen’s retirement (Jan 2011-Jan 2014), the top 7 scored 16,126 runs in 37 matches @38.03 runs per wicket.

That’s a drop-off of over 8 runs per wicket, equal to around 112 runs per match. Which is a lot.

So what happened? In our view, it seems the introduction of new or young players to fill Colly’s level-headed role accentuated the personalities of the other groups. No doubt Strauss’s retirement made things worse. Like a tumour which starts to grow out of control, things began to disfigure.

The batsmen became slower and more obdurate, perhaps to make up the solidity that Collingwood had provided (the strike rate of the top 7 dropped by a massive 6 runs per 100 balls after PC retired – equating to a difference of 0.36 RPO). According to KP, Swann and Prior, previously the heart and soul of the dressing room, became caricatures of themselves, Swann turning into an unbearable Jack-the-lad and Prior an over-wound dynamo that preached the gospel of Flower at ever-higher pitches.

The fast-bowlers, especially Anderson and Broad, became more aggressive, their patience with their fielders grew thinner. Dropped catches required appeasement and apology, so say multiple sources (more on that next time) and this was probably egged on by Prior, who increasingly exploited his role as the on-field NCO. Broad’s high-jinks became worse, culminating in the infamous Twitter account which poked fun at KP. It can’t have been easy for Strauss or Cook to control this and it seems, ultimately, they couldn’t.

All in all, it hardly sounds like a model of harmony. That’s because it wasn’t, and that’s why KP has got several hundred journalists salivating for every sordid detail.

But anyway, we’ve started to step a little too far into the realms of speculation, so we’ll stop there and leave the batshit crazy stuff for the next article, where we will discuss whether anything KP wrote is actually accurate.

Thoughts on our interpretation are welcome, by the way, especially if you are a former England cricketer. Even more so if your name is an anagram of ‘Knee Riven Spite’.

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