Kevin Garside: English cricket needs far more than just a new guru or Kevin Pietersen

Comment: Talk of recalling Kevin Pietersen is a red herring that cannot help the revival of English cricket

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The Independent Online

We are talking about Kevin again. I’m guessing Peter Moores did not imagine that would be his big contribution to English cricket when he resumed the role of head coach.

Such is the mess we are in, Pietersen finds himself cast in the role of saviour again. It is the equivalent of the heave to Cow Corner off the last ball to win the match. It might work. Or you might turn around to find your stumps splattered.

Pietersen is in the red herring category of issues, neither part of the problem nor the solution. If he were to inveigle his way back it would be awkward at least for a chief executive officer, Paul Downton, who sacked him, and a coach who lost his job first time around in part as a result of his catastrophic breakdown in relations with the great one.

Pietersen could barely get the ball off the middle when he last wore the three lions, and was a corrosive influence in the dressing room. What would be different next time? In one breath he says he is happy to play under Moores, in another he hammers him for his selection and strategic cock-ups that led to the World Cup disintegration. Hello KP, glad to have you back.

If Moores was the answer a year ago, he still is, though his position will come under even more scrutiny should the coming Test series in the West Indies go belly up. His Test skipper, Alastair Cook, resumes the middle in the United Arab Emirates this week for the MCC against Yorkshire. Having been relieved of his duties as one-day skipper, against his will, Cook returns without stain. His leadership, it seems, was not the issue after all.

A new chairman takes over at the ECB in May. Colin Graves did a number at Yorkshire, appointing Jason Gillespie as coach in 2011 and transforming the fortunes of a county relegated that year to champions in 2014. The idea that Gillespie might follow Graves into the England circle is already gathering heavy momentum. He is, after all, blessed with an attribute that has plenty of currency: he’s Australian.

Again we are going down the guru route. No one man can turn this around. England are in a time warp and need to accept that the world has moved on. Though we may still believe Test cricket is where it’s at, the rest of the world is telling us that the longer form of the game is becoming marginalised.

Games played over five days in empty arenas, outside of England and Australia at least, have nil relevance to the cricketing consumer. Yes, it remains the purest examination of cricketing skill. Yes, the red ball still means something in the hands of a bowler, fast or slow. Yes, batsmen have only the willow and not fielding stipulations to protect them. But what is the value of that if the world is not watching?

Ken Schofield, arguably one of the great sporting administrators of the past 25 years, turned his forensic mind to cricket eight years ago after knocking golf’s European Tour into a viable rival to the mighty PGA Tour in the United States. His recommendations after the Ashes whitewash Down Under in 2006/07 led to a hat-trick of successes, including a first victory in Australia for more than 30 years. 

Yesterday he advised on BBC 5Live’s Sportsweek programme how he would revamp the season around a three-week one-day Twenty20 festival, taking soundings from Australia’s hugely successful Big Bash and the IPL on how to do this.

English cricket, argued Schofield, needs to accept that the game is moving at pace away from traditional rhythms. A county set-up played out in empty stadiums lacking the requisite intensity is producing outmoded cricketers unfit for purpose.

It is no longer enough to present a straight bat perpendicular to a bouncing ball, to let wide deliveries go through, to wander down the track to repair the wicket with a gentle prod. The willow must go after everything at all angles, sending the ball not to the boundary elegantly along the deck but violently, raucously over the keeper’s head via the reverse paddle.

This is the country that introduced the one-day game to the world more than half a century ago. When the Sunday League began in 1969, four-an-over was the dream strike rate; 46 years on it seems we are still playing to that old standard, while the world has motored on at twice the pace.

County cricket is an anachronism that needs an overhaul. The domestic game must serve the national interest. The structure must reflect modern mores, producing players capable of performing in all forms of the game, not just one.

Rehabilitating Pietersen is not the priority, neither is replacing Moores. Graves must attend to fundamentals, overseeing the restructuring of domestic cricket to make it relevant and viable once more.

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