James Lawton: Credit to Alastair Cook for accepting that he needed Kevin Pietersen in his ranks
Without the oxygen of Test exposure, Pietersen’s profile inevitably dwindled
Some of us were underwhelmed when England's new captain welcomed Kevin Pietersen back into the dressing room – especially when he said that, along with the fatted calf, the idea that a devastating blow had been delivered to the concept of cricket as a team game should also be roasted. But then some of us were wrong.
Alastair Cook's fervent belief may still be tested a time or two before Pietersen finally puts down his willow version of a Stradivarius but, for the moment at least, there is no hardship in owning up. All the heart-searching has been belted for a monumental six.
An important principle was no doubt involved when Pietersen returned after his outrageous texting to South African opponents during a hugely important Test match this last summer. However, when Cook came down firmly on the side of predecessors like Mike Atherton and Nasser Hussain, who claimed that Pietersen, for all his foibles, was just too good to cast permanently into the wilderness, he was also weighing carefully his chances of overcoming the first great challenge of his infant captaincy.
His position could be summarised easily enough: You take the moral high road, he said, and I'll live with the best batsman in the world.
It meant that few new captains ever stood quite so tall as Cook in the early hours of yesterday.
On top of his own superb batting – which, like that of Pietersen, had just carried him to the record mark of 22 Test centuries for England – Cook could claim a hard-edged understanding of the realities of his new job. High among these is that his greatest imperative is to have world-class cricketers at his disposal.
Atherton, after deciding to give up the task after a shelling by Curtly Ambrose in the West Indies, was asked to identify the trick of winning leadership. "Having a good side," he said drolly but with a certain bitter intent.
In Mumbai, after the 10-wicket victory over an Indian team which was supposed to be unbeatable on its own carefully arranged soil, Cook could fairly claim to be in charge of both himself and the brilliantly recharged team for whom Monty Panesar, resurrected with some permanence this time, you have to believe, and Graeme Swann claimed 19 wickets.
The Indian skipper M S Dhoni, a titan of the one-day game, had made no attempt to disguise his insistent demands for custom-made pitches favouring his platoon of spinners. But in Mumbai the master plan failed horribly for several reasons. One was the superb assault launched by Panesar, which outstripped anything the Indian crew could offer. Another was the stunning command of Pietersen, which so perfectly augmented the relentless form of the captain.
The England and Wales Cricket Board earned considerable scorn when it talked of the reintegration of Pietersen but Cook, plainly, has demystified the process. A man familiar with working the land, the captain has been down to earth with his assessment of the Pietersen dilemma. It could be resolved, he concluded, by recognition of mutual dependence. Without the oxygen of Test exposure, Pietersen's profile inevitably dwindled. Without Pietersen, England were stripped of a potentially massive strength.
Cook must hope now that Pietersen has finally grasped the point. He must certainly have been encouraged by the hero's demeanour at the completion of another sumptuous century. Pietersen briefly acknowledged the dressing room and then the crowd. Some important priorities, however briefly, were in place.
In Adelaide two years ago, Pietersen crowned a superb double century with a stream of consciousness on the value of team spirit. He praised the ethos created by captain Andrew Strauss and coach Andy Flower.
He has reason to be a little more circumspect now, of course, but the body language in Mumbai could hardly have been more encouraging. It was that, just maybe, of a man acknowledging that, at a crucial point in his extraordinary professional life, he was supported by the some of the most able, and hardest men, in his trade.
It is extremely good news for English cricket that Cook has surely elected himself to such company.
Fans feel no belonging at Chelsea's exclusive club
It was impossible not to see at Stamford Bridge that Rafa Benitez was the most manifest symptom rather than the disease.
Benitez, who suffered an ordeal of disdain unprecedented even in this era of obscenely vicious tribal hatred, believes he has both the ability and the essential toughness to weather the rage. He supports his belief with the argument that sooner than later the Chelsea fans will support "their" team. But here, of course, is the problem.
If it was sickening to see the hounding of a football man of great achievement, whatever you think of his style after the high tide of his success began to ebb a few years ago, it was hardly incomprehensible.
The overwhelming sense in the ground was not of hatred for an individual football man who in the past acquired the status of a most difficult opponent but one of deprivation.
Some certainties – or perhaps they were always illusions since Roman Abramovich bought the club nearly a decade ago – had been quite brutally taken away.
The announcement of the death of Dave Sexton elicited near forgotten communal warmth. The manager of the fine and sometimes superb team of Hudson and Osgood and Cooke and Bonetti, and the ferocious Harris and Eddie McCreadie was remembered with a respect and affection that threw the treatment of Benitez into an even harsher light.
It was, you had to believe, the fans recalling a time when they could toy with the idea that their views mattered and their prejudices might just be recognised. Of course, they had their jolts back in those tumultuous days. When Sexton sent off the twin authors of both mischief and brilliance, Peter Osgood and Alan Hudson, to, respectively, Southampton and Stoke there was considerable pain and outrage down the Fulham Road.
Yet on Sunday we had to consider not a difference of opinion but an extremely large fissure.
Does the oligarch have the inclination or the will to close it up?
It is the multibillion pound question as he considers a future that almost certainly does not include the football man he most admires, Pep Guardiola.
As the one who pays the bills and has delivered a string of trophies beyond the dreams of Chelsea even in those days of promise created by Sexton and Ted Drake and, briefly, Tommy Docherty, Abramovich may believe that he is an answerable only to himself. But if a football club does not have a collective heartbeat, a sense of common ownership, of yearnings and even suffering, it is failing in a vital function.
Even more important than winning trophies is the creation of belonging, of kinship and loyalty and the belief in a club, right or wrong.
If Abramovich is not reflecting deeply on what he saw and what he heard on the day Rafa Benitez took office, we can only sigh for the future of a club that doesn't seem to recognise the danger of losing the most vital asset of all. It is something that might just pass for a soul.
Closure for Hatton lies outside ring
If there is inevitable concern about the morale of Ricky Hatton as he comes to terms with his crushing denouement in the ring, there must also be the hope that he comes to recognise quickly the value of his effort to remake a life hurtling towards an extremely bad place.
He saw the ring as somewhere to reannounce himself as a man who had regained control. It was always going to be an extremely risk-laden place to do it and those most aware of this are now obliged to offer one last piece of advice. It is simply to point out that the real courage was not in stepping back through the ropes but accepting that he had to change his life.
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