It’s not often that we actually get angry at 51allout. Life’s too good for that sort of thing: it’s warm and sunny outside, plus the Olympic opening ceremony was rather good, at least until Paul McCartney’s cack bit at the end. And yet this morning we’re still slightly annoyed. And the reason for that unrest is, quite simply,
the shambles around Kevin Pietersen’s international retirement and subsequent exclusion from the England World T20 (preliminary) squad, at the expense of such luminaries as Gareth Batty, Steven Croft and Amjad Khan.
It’s been barely eight weeks since Pietersen announced his immediate retirement from playing ODI cricket, and therefore also T20I cricket, for England. And yet, despite him having retired, various people seem to think that he should have still been in England’s squad. Presumably this is because these people (and quite possibly KP himself) don’t quite grasp the concept of retirement. Or possibly because some of them are simpletons.
Pietersen has made his bed and now he has to lie in it. Presumably with Jessica Taylor, which softens that particular blow somewhat. No one forced him to retire from ODI cricket – he made his views clear to his employers (the ECB) and then, because they wouldn’t let him dictate policy, threw his toys out of the pram. Quite what he expected to happen, we just can’t understand. Did he think that the ECB would be so desperate to have him playing that they’d run down the street after him sobbing? Or that they’d take his retirement on board and (however grudgingly) move on, like the organised, sensible professionals that they are? It just makes no sense to us. It’s not as if Pietersen’s running out of chances to play in the IPL; the likes of Adam Gilchrist played there for years after retiring from proper cricket.
England certainly don’t need Pietersen for their ODI side. Indeed, he basically spent half a decade trying to force his way out of the side through the medium of rubbish performances (which we talked about in some depth here). If he was to suddenly be available again there simply wouldn’t be a space in the side for him, unless England wanted to completely disrupt the balance of the side, switching to four bowlers and moving everyone from Bopara (who’d have to pick up the bowling slack) down a place in the order. After giving Australia an almighty schooling England would have to be mad to change their successful methods to accommodate an underperforming middle order batsman who simply didn’t want to be there. In that respect Pietersen’s retirement comes as a blessed relief, a line in the sand.
The T20 side is a very different kettle of fish. Pietersen retired as the number one batsman in the format and with no obvious replacements. Alex Hales made a superb 99 against the West Indies but is just a youngster making his first steps in the international game, far from the experienced campaigner of Pietersen (man of the tournament in the last T20 World Cup, of course).
But England under Flower are nothing if not resilient. They’re not exactly short of options, with the new world number one batsman, Eoin Morgan, in the middle order and the likes of Bairstow and Buttler coming through. There’s no doubt England would be a better side with Pietersen in, but they’re certainly not a poor side without him. Winning the T20 World Cup in Sri Lanka even with Pietersen was no certainty, given England’s dislike for the conditions and the general lottery of the shortest format of the game. Of course, that won’t matter to Pietersen’s friends in the media, who will already have the ‘we would have won it if KP was there’ mantra ready to go.
England don’t emerge from this mess with much credit either. The filthy spectre of the IPL will continue to hang over the shoulder of the English season, with no apparent solution in sight. England can’t afford to give up any of their international cricket, so something will have to give. Pietersen may well be the first player to be prepared to forgo England to chase the Indian rupee but he’s unlikely to be the last; in two or three years time, this dilemma may well be an annual event. Pietersen may look back at the end of his career with great pride, mainly for the runs he scored but also for being a martyr for the IPL’s cause, at the expense of the England side that he so professed to love.