James Lawton: We can be grateful England's hold on Ashes urn was firmer than Pietersen's grasp on reality
Saturday 01 January 2011
What can we say but shame on us all, except maybe for celebrity guru Piers Morgan, for whom a text from Kevin Pietersen has long been something to weigh in gold, not just for its shining wit and wry sophistication but the fact that it comes on the wings of Mercury from one of the great men of our times.
How could we mistake for a mere shooting star a straight and constant arrow, one which in the end has landed perfectly again in the bull's-eye of a historic Ashes triumph?
Shame, specifically, on the widespread failure to understand that when KP appeared two years ago to be throwing away the England captaincy with a petulant immaturity hardly imagined before the creation of his teenaged namesake by the comedian Harry Enfield, he was really looking into the skull's head of the future and plotting precisely how England could win back the little urn.
Unfortunately, this did involve his own sacking but that was a mere contrivance, a necessary sacrifice, you might say, in a much wider cause.
What was crucial, it turns out, was that Pietersen took the reigning coach Peter Moores down with him, and thus cleared the way for the installation of the winning combination of Andrew Strauss and Andy Flower.
Wouldn't it be wonderful to share KP's nonchalant flair for re-writing history? How much easier to sleep at night. Imagine the lost ground regained, how much more fondly we might think of ourselves.
Unfortunately, it is a rare genius and rather unfair that Pietersen should have it in his possession, along with the regained batting brilliance that gives him a superb average of 53 over 16 Ashes Tests.
If there is a worry, though, it is that KP may have hit again the plateau of self-satisfaction that back in the real world undermined his captaincy almost from the moment he was appointed and as recently as this last summer provoked him into an embarrassingly self-serving tweet. He sneered at the "unbelievable" decision of the England selectors to drop him from the one-day team after playing a series of shots so horrible, so ill-conceived, they might have drawn sniggers on a village green.
If this concern is indeed valid, and certainly the Lamborghini charge in the wake of his exquisite double century in Adelaide was a disquieting hint of the possibility, we might be at the start of another cycle of hubris.
You might say this is a groundless fear in view of Pietersen's huge contribution to the current tour – but then maybe you skimmed over the thrust of his analysis of how England ensured they leave Australia with the Ashes for the first time in 24 years.
He blinked and then, wide-eyed, declared: "You know what, I have never said this before but I got rid of the England captaincy for the good of English cricket. We would not be here today if I had not done what I did then."
Why does Pietersen have to make such an announcement? Is it not sufficiently elating that he has emerged from a major crisis in his career, when so many doubts were legitimately placed against his ability, and his willingness, to do the work necessary to remake his technique and confidence? Apparently it is not enough to have come through so impressively as arguably the world's most naturally gifted batsman. Now he must claim authorship of an entire winning strategy.
Of course, he is entitled to report his belief that the approach of Moores was never likely to match that of Flower – he was, after all, not alone in his criticism of a man of fierce conviction but negligible international experience – but to extend this into some selfless master plan, the creation of a new era of English cricket, is plainly fanciful to the point of fantasy.
Moores might not have been a winning Test coach but then nor did Pietersen supply any evidence that he was captaincy material. It was a shortfall then and one confirmed regularly over the intervening years – and not least by this latest example of self-absorption and glorification.
Pietersen has earned huge credit for his acceptance of Strauss's leadership in Australia, and his acknowledgment of natural-born authority and judgement, and no one who saw him in full flight on a beautiful day in Adelaide will ever lose the memory. Pietersen showed a quality that many feared he had lost for ever. He looked like a phenomenal cricketer in charge of all his resources. He was a man who had, finally, accepted that he had been on the wrong track but was now steaming along at the peak of his powers.
That, surely, would have been enough for most men. Not KP. He hadn't merely come out of the shadows with his great talent refreshed and whole.
He had plotted every step of the way. Far from one of the principal worries of his coach and his captain coming into the Ashes tour, he had been their patron, even their Svengali, and now when he praised them it was, you could be forgiven for believing, because they had repaid his trust.
The reality has, of course, been somewhat different. Strauss and Flower inherited a disaster. England went to the West Indies two years ago as a parody of a united team, as they had been for so much of the time they agonised over whether to fulfil the contract to play Test match cricket in India after the Mumbai outrage – a dilemma which many felt was largely fuelled by the fact that such key figures as Pietersen and Andrew Flintoff had also to weigh the possible effects on vast potential earnings in the Indian Premier League.
It was scarcely new terrain for Strauss, who had suffered the nightmare of 2006-07 under Flintoff's captaincy in Australia, but he and Flower negotiated it with great skill.
They picked up the pieces and made a seriously competitive regime. Now they hear they were merely part of KP's master plan. No doubt they will shrug their shoulders and get with their jobs – and maybe hope that the great man will do precisely the same.
Football's wider interests should come before family values, even for Fergie
Sir Alex Ferguson is famous for ferocious family loyalty and who can't be quick to say that it is an admirable quality? Maybe the embattled football club Preston North End.
The instant decision of the Manchester United manager to withdraw two loan players in the wake of Preston's decision to fire his son Darren will certainly leave a bitter taste way beyond the boundaries of the old Deepdale stadium where Tom Finney once imposed his magic.
This reaction is inevitable because the loan system is a delicate mechanism at the best of times, one open to claims of arbitrary preferment, and for it to be seen, rightly or wrongly, as a form of nepotism is plainly damaging to the image of the game.
Ferguson has, of course, long had the reputation for respecting most his own instincts but at some point there is the matter of accountability. The Preston affair suggests strongly a paramount concern for the interests of the Ferguson family rather than those of the two clubs and two players, Ritchie de Laet and Joshua King, involved.
Preston, of course, have no formal basis for complaint. De Laet and King were the gifts of Manchester United in theory but Ferguson in practice – and he has decided to take them back. This is the reality. No, it doesn't make it a scrap more agreeable.
Ponting deserves respect, not jeers
It is fashionable now to mock Ricky Ponting. It is happening both here and in Australia.
He is a man who has stayed too long, too hazardously, they say, and some add it was wonderful to see his distress when he strayed so far beyond an acceptable line with his haranguing of umpire Aleem Dar in the Melbourne Test. From what dismal crannies do such people come when a great competitor can no longer conceal his wounds?
The perspective here, certainly, is that Ponting's enforced absence from the Sydney Test diminishes the occasion hugely. Even in the worst of his times, he has still represented the flintiest of the Australian tradition.
History has been cruel to a superb competitor, imposing a third Ashes loss on his captaincy. Dance on his grave if you must – then go back to your crevice.
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