by Trevor Chesterfield
Kevin Pietersen should not have been too surprised at the armed police escort awaiting him when he arrived at Heathrow. As he would thttp://www.instablogs.com/write_article.phpell you, he is used to causing surprises: one is the use of the switch-hit batting tactic, an idea picked up from Duncan Fletcher that has anyway, been around for a while.
Why, only 48 hours before he had been relaxing, when not talking on his mobile, in a more peaceful environment of peering at dolphins off Durban in his native South Africa. This mind you is after his game reserve jaunt.
Which suggests the sight of the armed Bobbies awaiting him in his adoptive country as he plunged through the doors at Heathrow would surprise most but the new erstwhile England captain. Yet, with so many cranks around these days, no one can be too careful, even when being greeted by no more than a scrum of news TV cameramen and photographers asking for comment, not a pack of Umfolozi Game Reserve lions.
No doubt the England (and Wales) Cricket Board felt such precautions were needed. After all, the there had been an on-going and very public media circus surrounding his demands to the ECB and his views of England’s coach Peter Moores were not at all flattering. It had ended in him resigning the captaincy and led to the sacking of Moores.
Grim-faced, the now suntanned ex-captain, whose well-shorn hairstyle was so reminiscent of the brash, ego punk rock artists of the 1980s, hunched in the car and texting an SMS as the police calmly tried to stop the photo hungry media frenzy from getting out of hand.
Until last Saturday, his arrival would have been barely noticed, maybe a nudge or a nod from other passengers recognising the international player, whose ego as well as his lanky frame is discernable enough for close watchers of the game.
Claims of his arrival in England eight years ago through an introduction by Clive Rice, along with his behaviour at Nottinghamshire before moving to Hampshire, has often polarised the dressing rooms where he has played. The England dressing room though was one area where he could not always command respect.
This is after Fletcher left as coach and the ensuing rumblings and unhappiness with some players with Moores who went a step too far to have Michael Vaughan left out of the team soon to embark on a tour of the West Indies.
It is where the row with Moores spilled into the open. It had been bubbling for sometime in a caldron and a matter of time before it reached boiling point. This came in his weekly column for the News of The World. It is where he wore his ego as a smirk up his sleeve. He has habit of doing things his way has the perception that left him out on a limb as the most hated player in modern England cricket.
He quit as captain, he says, in ‘disgust’ but the harsh truth is his so-called England pavilion buddies turned on him: well, four of them: Freddie (The Eagle) Flintoff and his pal Steve Harmison, were unhappy at the between tours recriminations. It became as well the signal for Hugh Morris, the team’s managing director, to pass this information on to the ECB.
By then, after, say contacts in South Africa, advice from Kent director of Cricket, Graham Ford, Pietersen decided to quit instead of being force to walk the plank. He was in contact with Morris who outlined to Pietersen where he stood with the ECB.
It known that a year ago Vaughan and Moores failed to agree on a number of strategies in New Zealand.
There is also a strong rumour that Moores was unhappy at the way the players decided to go back to India for the two Tests after the Mumbai attack by a group of ten Islamic fascists. Moores it is said argued against the return, suggesting that they were not mentally prepared to tackle the games.
This has been played down by the ECB while the ECB chairman Giles Clarke and the CEO James Collier as well as Morris went along on the tour. They saw for themselves the split between the management and the team with Moores failing to give clear directions in Chennai where England lost and Mohali.
Morris explained to ECB, there had been an ‘irretrievable breakdown in the relationship between captain and coach,’ which is not surprising as his ego and stubbornness found him dishing out an ultimatum to the ECB. It was where he was not prepared to embark on the forthcoming tour to the West Indies under the present management structure and wanted Moores assistant, the unassuming Andy Flower, out as well.
The axing of Moores as England coach is not a surprise. There have long been questions of his appointment in the first place and what is surprising, because of his average record, he was given a two-year extension before the India tour.
The ECB have a habit of handing out such favours to establishment types. Then again, when you understand how Fletcher had been mistaken for Whatmore by the ECB marketing types, it begs questions if they actually do know their job.
Unlike Fletcher, who went around the counties to checkout the systems in place and the discovery of new talent, Moores was known to be more at ease in his Sussex by the Sea drawing room during winter months when not on tour or running a pre-tour camp.
Once described as a hopeless Po-faced organiser, just how accurate is this description was seen at Galle in December 2007 when answering questions about England’s poor batting performances. It left him embarrassingly short of answers.
In the aftermath of Alistair Cook’s second innings rescue act century in Galle, dropped catches and the weather helped England force an unlikely drawn and 1-0 series loss instead of 2-0 thrashing, Moores gave the impression of being a retread house agent trying to boost the image of an obvious dilapidated dwelling. In this, England’s disgraceful batting.
‘Oh, no, I’m not worried at all about our performances. Scores of that nature (81 in the first innings and following on) are part of the game at this level,’ he joked. ‘Look at Cookie’s innings. What a fine second innings effort it has been. You cannot say it was a poor performance at all when you compare it with the way Sri Lanka batted. They had luck with them in this game and we didn’t’
‘Fine. But Vaughan won the toss and decided to bowl first and the bowling was seriously awry. Can you explain that?’ he was the questioned.
‘Oh, it’s nothing serious, the wind blew the ball around a bit, they didn’t get the right length and that is important. Also, they have not played here before. It’s a new venue for most of the bowlers, so I don’t think you can really criticise their efforts.’
Sri Lanka scored 499 for eight, declared after being asked to bat. A review of the scorecard explains some of the debacle in a game that was affected on all days be the squally weather.
Pietersen’s relationship with the British media has not been a cosy one. They look for any hint of salacious dalliances and their racy tabloid style coverage of his off-field relationships, especially with women, pointing out how he has ‘had flings with several glamorous celebrities, at one time dating lingerie model Caprice’. Pietersen a one-time renowned party animal has though settled down after marrying 28-year-old former Liberty X singer Jessica Taylor who because of business engagements, did not travel to South Africa with him on this occasion.
South Africa’s sixth captain since the end of isolation, Graeme Smith has admitted how he learnt a lot from Shane Warne when playing in the Indian Premier League.
It has been argued as well how this combination and SMS texts by Warne to Smith in Perth did much to boost the Proteas and take an unexpected 1-0 win when chasing down the second highest Test fourth innings total needed to clinch a match.
The telegraph from some suggest Warne’s comments that he had not seen an Australian team so quiet on the field as Smith and Neil McKenzie began a searching for a platform needed to win the game. There are plenty of theories as well from outsiders with their views and gatecrashing the victory party. Some were pointing to Jeremy Snape for plotting the downfall of the Australians.
Snape, a mouthy Englishman, knows Smith and Warne through the Rajasthan Royals, and suggest those far from the action it is Snape and his so-called mentoring style that changed the sway the Proteas were thinking. While these factors have played a role in South Africa’s success, as the coach Mickey Arthur, agreed, the players still had to perform in the middle to win the match.
As he also pointed out, the side has been on the road since October 2007 and the tour of Pakistan and Snape was not part of that set up, but in beating Australia, there are those likely to be eager to get in on the act because of some of the things Snape said about how players should be thinking.
Overlooked is how Duncan Fletcher had been part of the South African consulting team in Perth, as part of Arthur’s quest for ideas of how to beat Australia at home. That is expected in such cases as Fletcher’s quiet backroom role.
Some of the background to this is that many months ago, when Smith was bought by the Rajasthan Royals franchise for the IPL slogs, his captain-cum-coach, Warne wasn’t exactly charmed by the thought of Smith being in his side. Smith had wailed as would a spoiled adolescent when making his debut in Cape Town in the 2001/02 series about the sledging received as well as advice of how to hold the bat, as he shaped to face his first delivery.
The Proteas batting technique at best in the opening Test of that second series that summer at the Wanderers, resembled efforts borrowed from a nearby Alexandria township scrapyard. Here was a first world stadium showcasing a local production and team that was decidedly third world in ability. Little wonder they were thrashed inside three and a half days.
During the 2005/06 tour of Oz, Smith, still smarting from his experiences with Australia in his first series, admitted he had a need to get the Aussie monkey off his back. He also admitted that planning for this current Australia tour had started at the end of that series when he and Arthur held talks and put a five-year plan together with Gerald Majola, the streetwise Cricket South Africa chief executive in on the talks.
While the initial programme was a two-year that was rolled into a three-year stage, the bigger picture surrounded tours from 2007 through to the end of the 2008/09 season and a longer range plan to involve the 2011 World Cup. As Majola explained, there was a lot of work to do and planning as long as the long-term vision wasn’t lost.
While at times the transformation and affirmative action story partly derailed this progress, it needed the disgraceful events surrounding the Charl Langeveldt and Andre Nel episode to tell the politicians it is time they respected the efforts Cricket South Africa were employing to build a match-winning side.
‘It’s fair to say we started talking about this (Australia) tour almost as soon as we arrived home three years ago,’ Smith admitted in a television interview after the Melbourne Test. ‘It has always been in the back of our minds, even through this year (2008) when we had tours to India and England.
‘If I was still in the habit of sticking notes on my fridge door, I would have stuck one there three years ago and it would simply have said: “Win in Australia next time.” The challenge now, as it was with my captaincy, is not to treat the achievement as “mission accomplished” but to use it as the start of a brand new journey, a new era.
‘I can assure you there will be absolutely no sense of anti-climax about the Sydney Test. We are all very aware of the prize that awaits us if we can win again and we have all dreamed of being number one.’
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