Angus Fraser: If there's tension over Kevin Pietersen, it will explode in the dressing room
True test of KP's 'reintegration' into England fold will come when chips are down and changing room door closes, says Angus Fraser who's sat on the odd unhappy balcony
Saturday 20 October 2012
Well, it all sounds and looks good at the moment. Each of the previously disaffected parties has said the right things and we are assured any issues the England management team, England players and Kevin Pietersen had with each other have been resolved. I am sure over the coming weeks in India, as England prepare for their four-Test tour of the country, there will be plenty of pictures of Pietersen and his team-mates laughing and joking at the back of practice areas. It won't take long before everyone will begin to wonder what all the fuss was about. What could possibly go wrong?
But I have reservations over whether the previously fractious relationships have been repaired enough to survive the pressure they will be placed under over the coming weeks.
International cricket dressing rooms are remarkable places. For a start off, they smell. Even the home dressing room at Lord's has an odour to it. It is a scent of hard work, of graft. These are rooms where weary bodies that have been pushed to the limit rest, recover, celebrate and cry. They are crowded and untidy. No one has any real space. Clothing and equipment lie everywhere. Levels of hygiene have improved but the habits of many players still leave a lot to be desired.
Cricketers, more than any other sportspeople, spend a huge amount of time together in these confined, intense places. If you all get on there is rarely a problem. But if you dislike someone it will irritate the living daylights out of you and resentment will set in.
The nature of cricket means there is a lot of time to talk too. Most of it is inane nervous chatter. Nonsense.Inevitably there is a lot of mickey- taking. Some players are easier targets than others. A lot of the comments made are cutting and to the point. Sport at the highest level is ruthless. You are competing against people in your own side as well as the opposition. It might not be right but you need a pretty thick skin to survive. In good dressing rooms offence is rarely taken.
The modern way of describing it is "banter". But when there is a divide, when players don't get on, it is not seen as such. It is abuse, and tempers can quickly fray.
That most teams manage to keep this potentially combustible cocktail of ingredients under some sort of control is remarkable. Obviously, it is easier when you are winning. Victory relaxes everyone, players worry less about being dropped and irritations are temporarily ignored.
Despite the private face-to-face conversations, promises and agreements, it will only be when the England team spend time together alone in their dressing room that they and we will truly find out whether their issues have been resolved. It is after a tough and disappointing day in the field that nerves are frayed and stress levels rise. It is at these points that shared values and tolerance keep the team together. If the glue holding the team together is not strong enough, character flaws appear and the team fragments. Winning games in these situations is virtually impossible.
Only after a tough session in India will we be able to see what is taking place. Will England look like a team together with shared values or be a group of distant individuals? If the team sticks together it will be real proof that Pietersen has been reintegrated.
Understandably, there will be tension to begin with. In the privacy of the England dressing room a lot will have been said over a long period of time. Strong words may have been exchanged. Those who believe this is only a recent problem, an issue brought to a head by provocative texts, are misguided. Personalities have been clashing for a while.
Players do not always get on and, believe it or not, I even had a few confrontations during my career. Nasser Hussain and I used to have at least one blowout on each tour we went on. On one occasion, in Antigua in 1994, he reacted badly to a bit of "banter" Alec Stewart and I were having at his expense. We were questioning Nasser's running between the wickets. Nasser reacted adversely to a comment I made and a colourful exchange of views ended with him threatening to wrap his bat round my head. There was a bit of tension for a day or two between the two of us, but the issue had been dealt with swiftly and we knew where we stood moving forward. Fortunately, we can laugh about it now.
I was within a comment of thumping Dominic Cork once too. I felt he had been taking the mickey out of me while I was performing my 12th man duties during a day's play in South Africa. He kept asking for this, then saying no he meant that and it went on and on. I happened to be sharing a room with him and I was livid when we returned in the evening. I was itching to get things off my chest. Fortunately, the topic of the day's play did not materialise as we quickly got ready to go out separately. I think he apologised. These were blow-ups that were done and dusted within the day, though. Nothing lingered.
It will not surprise you to hear that Philip Tufnell, my former Middlesex and England team-mate, had his moments too and Mike Gatting managed him well. Like Pietersen, Tufnell could be seen as distracting the management team from their jobs.
Had Tufnell not been a fine bowler I don't think Gatt would have been quite so tolerant.
One of the issues with Pietersen is that the England management seems to want and expect more from him than just runs, and rightly so. Senior players have huge roles to play in a team. They are extremely influential and the management needs them to say the right things and set the right example. If they don't they can unknowingly undermine the culture and environment that those in charge want to create.
In my position at Middlesex I have moved on senior players with good career records because they have not naturally supported the culture I have been trying to create. They have not been bad men, and they did not deliberately try to undermine what we were attempting to create, but I did not feel the messages they were consciously and unconsciously relaying to young, easily influenced players were right.
And with England Pietersen has not been the only guilty party in this sorry saga but, quite rightly, he has the most damage to repair. For England's sake, and their chances of success in India, I only hope that's possible.
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