I must confess at the start of this piece that I have soft a spot for English cricket. I have been lucky enough to spend some time in England and even more lucky to play a bit minor league and village cricket in England. Beyond the realms of county cricket, the game in England is refreshingly innocent and played by individuals who love the game and enjoy every moment playing it. Having experienced this, if only for a short period of time, I have always wished the best for English Cricket.
Yet at times they seem to take decisions that baffle me. English cricket has had a tough last 18 months or so. They went to Australia with high hopes but came back with the tails between their legs after losing 0-5. That was followed by the World t20 in Bangladesh in which they lost to the Netherlands. Series defeats to Sri Lanka in test and one day internationals followed. They won the test series against India but since that they lost the one day series to India and Sri Lanka and could not beat a West Indies team without its best players in a test series. In between they were the only test side that could not qualify for the quarterfinals of the World Cup. You don’t need to be Isaac Newton to realize that this becomes a season of great importance for English cricket. They face two very tough opponents at home. First they face a resurgent New Zealand team who have captured the imagination of the cricketing world and a team whose pace attack will enjoy the early summer conditions of England. And then there is the Ashes against the old enemy. Australia are tough to beat at the best of times but with a World Cup win behind them and English cricket in apparent disarray, many experts are predicting a 5-0 sweep for them this summer.
One would thus imagine that the only objective for English Cricket and the people who run it would have been to ensure by using whatever means possible that England goes back to its winnings ways. Yet, once again at the start of the summer chaos and confusion seems prevalent at Lords. The coach has been sacked and the search for the new coach is ongoing, like last summer. Also like last summer, England a have new director of cricket. And like last year, the new director of cricket- Andrew Strauss, perhaps in his own wisdom, or perhaps under the instructions of his superiors, has decided the one England’s greatest batsman , and a player who in his last first class innings a week back scored 355 not out , will not be selected for England this summer.
Kevin Pietersen-KP to everyone. A lot has been written and said over the KP saga. Another confession- I am a big fan of KP. I was privileged to witness his century in the Mumbai test in 2012 and really there has not been batting by a visiting player in India better than that innings. His non- inclusion is a loss to world cricket let alone English cricket. And there are certain issues around the KP non-inclusion that I cannot understand. What exactly does Andrew Strauss mean when he says there are trust issues? Are those issues arising from the text gate scandal? If yes, wasn’t KP dropped, punished and reintegrated again. (Incidentally the Mumbai hundred was after the text gate scandal).So why bring it up again. If there are reasons beyond text gate, then why are those reasons specifically not being disclosed? Is KP being punished because he questioned Andy Flower’s authority? Is he being punished because he does not get along with captain Cook? Is he being punished because he was whistling after being dismissed in the Sydney test?
Whatever be the reason it is very clear that is not related to KP’s cricketing ability. This makes the decision slightly strange. In his column for cricinfo.com, Ian Chappel makes a very valid point and says “Part of the enjoyment of leadership is having a varied group of characters and moulding them into a team while allowing for a reasonable amount of individuality. Anyone who believes stories about teams all getting on famously with no quarrels still puts a bottle of beer by the fireplace on Christmas Eve.” Surely managers/coaches and captains are paid to manage individuals and make them perform to the best of their abilities. And English sport has seen some of the best man- managers ever seen. Can you imagine Sir Alex Fergusson not picking Eric Cantonna or Roy Keane because of issues with other team members? Great players have certain maverick qualities and great mangers are those who manage them and bring the best out of these great players that benefits the team. Of course KP may have also done certain things which would have harmed his chances. But to his credit, once it was indicated to him that he needed to play county cricket and score runs, he knuckled down and scored runs for Surrey. It is beyond me what prevented Andrew Strauss from at least saying that while KP will not be picked immediately, he may be considered later in the summer if he continues to score runs and if things are not going well for England. Unfortunately English cricket seems to have a block when it comes to Kevin Pietersen and like last summer, the saga will roll on this summer.
Beyond KP, there are certain other issues as well that need to be sorted by English cricket. The search of the new coach will be affected by the fact that the new coach will not be able to pick the best possible available players for England. Already there are reports the Jason Gillespie, considered by many as Strauss’s first preference as coach, is having second thoughts in view of the KP saga. There are other team issues as well. The bowling apart from Anderson looks thin and if Moeen Ali is going to be the lead spinner for England in the summer, then the Kiwi and the Australians will be not be too bothered. Stuart Broad seemed to have found back some of his pace and fire in the tail end of the West Indies series but Chris Jordon as a third seamer does not infuse too much confidence at the moment. With Jonathan Trott having retired, England will have a new opening batsman against the best two pace attacks in the world. And although Alastair Cook scored a hundred in the last test, questions about his batting form have not completely died down.
This is a pivotal summer for English cricket. It has not started on the best note possible but for the sake of English cricket, one hopes that it improves and becomes a summer to remember. Otherwise winter for English cricket will be gloomier and darker than normal.