THE KEVIN PIETERSEN CONTROVERSY

They came to offer clarity on Kevin Pietersen, not to praise him. But they left without achieving either.

To be fair to Andrew Strauss and Tom Harrison, the incoming ECB director and chief executive, they tried so hard to be upfront. They did the media rounds with great diligence - upstairs, downstairs, inside and out - tirelessly traversing the Lord's pavilion to repeat themselves to TV, radio, digital and written press ad nauseam.

They presaged their words with woolly preambles about how sorry they were that Peter Moores had been shafted, and how excited they were about their organisation's new beginnings, and how now was the time to build a better future for English cricket.

But no matter how passionately they expressed their platitudes, or how multi-layered they made their appeals for a reassessment of the team's priorities, the white noise of corporate bullshit was precisely the last thing that we, the working media, and by extension, them, the disenfranchised masses so odiously dismissed by the previous regime as being "outside cricket", needed to hear.

Strauss and Harrison tried so desperately to move the issue along, but they might as well have been Ben Raine and Jigar Naik for all the plausible resistance they offered in the face of Pietersen's onslaught. And the net result was that today's grand unveiling was a desperate and troubling disappointment.

Fifteen months ago, a culture of silence enveloped the ECB after Paul Downton's catastrophic decision to sack Pietersen, accompanied by a cryptic press release, the contents of which could not be expanded upon because of an accompanying confidentiality agreement:

"We have decided the time is right to look to the future and start to rebuild not only the team but also team ethic and philosophy."

Leaving aside the energetic posturing and magnanimous looking-in-the-eye that Strauss and Harrison managed in the ECB's second attempt to set the record straight, today's utterances could feel every bit as cold, flat and insulting to many cricket followers when laid out for digestion in tomorrow's papers.

"We've offered clarity today on the ECB position with respect to KP in the short- to medium-term," said Harrison. "We are drawing a line under it to say this is where we're going."

Really? Pietersen has not been sacked, but he won't be selected, and Alastair Cook, incidentally, has the full and unequivocal backing of the board. He probably deserves it after a year in which the old regime used him as a human shield, but that doesn't even begin to scratch the surface of the issues that demand to be addressed.

The ECB continue to believe that the primary issue at stake is a breakdown in trust between themselves and Pietersen. They could not be more wrong.

The more frightening breakdown is the one between the ECB and its once-devoted public, a hardy and by-and-large educated breed, who stuck with the team through thin and thinner in the 1980s and 90s but whose faith has been eroded by every wrong decision imaginable.

On Monday afternoon, cricket stood still as a Division Two County Championship fixture involving a team that has not won a match for two years became the most talked-about live event in the country.

By Tuesday morning, the new director of England cricket was telling the public to move along, there's nothing to see here. Such a stance is an outrage. Leaving aside the characters involved - and that, clearly, has not been possible to do - what sort of a perverse world does English cricket inhabit if the hyper-promotion of a match involving its most endangered county is suddenly deemed a bad thing?

Pietersen's decision to turn his back on the IPL's group stages was, admittedly, made easier by the less-than-favourable terms he had been offered by Sunrisers Hyderabad. But he was merely responding to the apparent olive branch he had been offered by the incoming ECB chairman, Colin Graves.

Pietersen has fulfilled his side of the bargain, sometimes thrillingly, and as a by-product he has dragged stupendous levels of interest to every ground he has visited, not least a crowd of 2,000 for a non-first-class warm-up in The Parks. As Alec Stewart, his director of cricket at Surrey, stated in very sanguine fashion on Surrey TV, "Kevin is very entitled to feel let down."

And so is the rest of England's cricket family, for want of a better catch-all term. Harrison, to be fair, recognises the urgent need for the ECB to re-engage with its drifting public, to enhance participation and, tellingly, to stop "patronising" those who expect better from their sport.

But there are better ways to go about rebuilding those bridges than estranging the one man about whom everyone in the sport (and even those outside it) holds an opinion.

It would help if the new management team could avoid coating their explanations in precisely the sort of boardroom jargon that most white-collar sports lovers seek to escape when attending a cricket match

It would also help if the new management team could avoid coating their explanations in precisely the sort of boardroom jargon that most white-collar sports lovers seek to escape when attending a cricket match.

"It's important to have a successful team to address participation issues but there are numerous ways participation can be affected," Harrison said. "One of the reasons we've taken this decision is to bring clarity and stability to the England set-up."

Of course, it's not impossible that the ECB are right, that - much like the Conservative Party's attitude to the economy - steering a firm course through the choppy waters is the only way to reach that long-promised new beginning.

Strauss's insistence that Joe Root was ready to take on greater responsibility chimed with a sense that, even in defeat, there's a hardcore of campaigners being forged within this new England team. If, by some miracle, they can extend their 14-year unbeaten run in home Ashes series this summer, then all sins will be forgiven.

And Strauss, let's not forget, picked up the pieces after the first KP-Moores debacle in 2009 and returned the urn by the end of that summer.

But the invisibility of, and the indifference to, the current England team is frightening. Moeen Ali, the break-out star of last year's Test series win against India, failed even to receive a BBC Sports Personality of the Year nomination, when Lizzy Yarnold (with the greatest respect to the skeleton bob fraternity) did.

And that's the other great sadness of the treatment of KP. With the exception of Ian Bell, who played a walk-on role in the greatest Ashes summer of them all, Pietersen is the last of the free-to-air heroes of 2005.

Harrison insisted it was important not to link his box-office marketability with that fact, but who could have witnessed Pietersen's 355 not out at The Oval this week without winding the mind back to that ludicrous assault on Brett Lee ten years ago? The ECB are expecting England's fans to unmake their memories for the betterment of the here-and-now. History, unfortunately, doesn't work like that.

It is, of course, possible that the furious masses railing on Twitter against the ECB's actions are not as representative of the national mood as they might like to think - last week's General Election set a precedent in that respect, a point that one or two members of the media have picked up on this week.

But if they are not representative, then why not? There is plenty to be furious about in English cricket at present, from the paucity of recent results, to the over-coaching of fast bowlers, to the decline in the recreational game, to the lack of transparency in the sport's global governance.

The ECB say they want to set out a five-year plan for the reinvigoration of the sport. But has anyone stopped to ask for whom is it making these plans? The general public have yet to be invited back into the fold. Or if they have, the message has been lost in the doublespeak.

Andrew Miller is a former editor of the Cricketer. @miller_cricket

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Leave a Comment

(required)

(required)

(required)

(required)

0 Comments