ECB fan the KP flames
Dave Tickner looks at the continued fallout from the ECB's decision to axe Kevin Pietersen from the England squad.
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When not busy seizing control of the ICC with its Indian and Australian co-conspirators, the ECB is currently to be found desperately trying to regain control of the increasingly grubby and unedifying Kevin Pietersen story.
It's to be hoped they make a better job of running world cricket, but I wouldn't advise holding your breath.
On Sunday, barely 20 minutes after the latest Manchester United disaster ensured that KP would be little more than an afterthought in Monday's sports pages, the ECB decided to put out the fire altogether by pouring petrol on it in the form of another witless pronouncement that revealed far more about the ECB than it did about the crimes or otherwise of England's finest batsman.
The latest statement is a pathetic farce from start to finish. It would be funny but for the startling realisation that these people are actually in charge. Whatever side of the KP debate you sit on, there can be no doubt that the ECB have mismanaged his axing to an extent that would seem hopelessly and unrealistically far-fetched in The Thick Of It.
Pietersen is now more popular than he has ever been, and leaves England for a vast IPL payout with the blessing of most England supporters. Think back to August 2012 and imagine that scenario being possible.
And the ECB have no-one to blame but themselves. In a display of hubris coupled with a fundamental failure to understand how the modern world goes round, they appear to have thought they could just tell people that Kevin wouldn't be around anymore, that they knew best, and that this would be the end of it.
This didn't work in 2012 after textgate, when the furore and attention only died down when he was "reintegrated" into the side. And that time everyone knew he'd done something wrong.
It was never going to work this time, as legions of uppity little people who buy £100 Test match tickets demanded to know why England's most exciting talent would no longer be included in that ticket price.
The ECB bungled their first chance to stay ahead of the story before the squad announcement for the World Twenty20.
Not so much insulting the intelligence of England supporters as denying its existence altogether, the ECB released a statement full of Brentist management speak, with talk of "team ethic" and "philosophy" and - most ludicrously of all barely a month before a global ICC tournament - "long-term planning". The only thing that initial statement did make clear was that Pietersen's England career was over; why that was the case remained an absolute mystery.
Gradually, inevitably, the gaps started to be filled as information emerged about what exactly Pietersen had done that merited such unequivocal finality.
Those reasons have included expressing opinions at a team meeting, whistling after getting out, and his oft-stated ambition to score 10,000 Test runs.
These reasons are, clearly, ludicrous. The ECB's problem was not that they were bound by legal constraints and confidentiality clauses - though they were - but that KP's misdemeanours were multiple and minor rather than singular and damning.
Unlike textgate, when Pietersen was found to have sent derogatory messages about England captain Andrew Strauss to South African players, there appears to be no smoking gun, just a whistling man. There is no one event that the ECB can point to and go "This, here, is why he must go"; instead there's a collection of irritations and annoyances that on their own would and did sound ridiculous.
And even those reasons added together amount to little more than "we don't like him and he is annoying" however much they may try to show them as breaches of confidence, insubordination or unprovoked assaults on the team ethic.
These things would perhaps all be more bearable were Pietersen performing at his absolute best, which he did not in Australia. They would probably be more bearable still for those in the England camp who want rid of him were that underperforming Pietersen not still outperforming them.
So the ECB tried again to get their point across on Sunday. And made things much, much worse. It is better to remain silent and be thought ridiculous and petty than to release a statement and remove all doubt.
They not only insist that full and unquestioning support for Alastair Cook is the best route out of the Ashes nadir, but appear not to have even considered that alternative paths may be available.
There is no attempt to explain or put forward a case for why they and we must "invest" in Cook; only the certainty that this is so.
And why does this investment in Cook mean the end for KP? Because Cook apparently requires "the full support of all players, with everyone pulling in the same direction and able to trust each other." This apparently means that anyone who dares question Cook and his methods must be excised, painting the beleaguered England skipper as a pathetically weak figure inherently unworthy of the office.
The ECB do not mean "full support"; they mean "unquestioning support". That's quite different. An inability to countenance question or dissent is not strong leadership, it is desperately weak.
Pulling in the same direction can surely only mean doing what is best for the England team. Pietersen may have gone about it the wrong way, but in questioning Cook's decision to have the players work on fitness rather than skills, or speaking out against Flower at the infamous Melbourne Meeting, was KP not doing what he thought was best for the team?
Is Cook really so insecure that he cannot cope with a dissenting voice or alternative point of view from a senior colleague? It seems unlikely, yet Sunday's statement suggests it is the case.
That statement has, in short, done more damage to Cook's captaincy and standing than Australia managed in five brutal Test matches.
This could become a stain on Cook's career that never goes away.
Then there's the hypocrisy.
One of the charges raised obliquely (always obliquely) against Pietersen is that he divulged information from the "dressing room or team meetings", information the ECB insist "should remain in that environment". Most damningly, this information was divulged to "people outside cricket", a reference, one may assume, to celebrity nuisance Piers Morgan yet easy enough to read as a lofty and high-handed dismissal of all those not directly connected to Team England. This, presumably, includes those who watch, love and cherish the sport and keep the ECB coffers topped up.
First, if this is a reference to Morgan and his tweets about what Matt Prior said in the Melbourne Meeting, then this occurred after KP had been sacked which means the ECB are now administering pre-emptive Minority Report style justice.
And second, what of the (ahem) whistleblower who told the press about KP's appalling post-dismissal whistling in the dressing room at the SCG? Is this not equally a breach of team ethics? Or is such a leak only an ethical problem if it doesn't suit the party line?
Throughout, the statement is high-handed and superior in attitude. The phrase "outside cricket" is especially revealing. This, in the ECB's own words, is what they think of you. You are not part of cricket. You are merely a consumer. Sit back and pipe down.
This is not even particularly about Kevin Pietersen any longer. This is not about the ECB making a bad decision about KP or placing all their eggs in Cook's captaincy basket, not entirely.
This is about a governing body that believes it can treat punters like mushrooms, keeping them in the dark and feeding them sh*t.
This is about a governing body that thinks full support means quietly accepting that which you believe to be wrong, where being a good team man means never asking questions and where dissenting voices from inside the group must be silenced and those from outside patronised and then ignored.