Kevin Pietersen had lost interest in playing international cricket and the decision to sack him was backed by every key member of the England set-up, according to new ECB chief Paul Downton.
Speaking extensively about the situation for the first time since “luxury player” Pietersen was cast aside more than three months ago, Downton, the new managing director of England cricket, admitted the decision had put more pressure on Alastair Cook’s new-look side to find a successful formula quickly following last winter’s Ashes whitewash.
In remarks that are certain to interest many current England players, Downton also criticised the style of cricket the team had played under Cook and ex-coach Andy Flower last year – even though they won the Ashes 3-0 in this country – and hinted they had developed too high an opinion of their talents.
“I talked to every person on the management team and a lot of people outside it,” Downton said. “I didn’t speak to every player but I spoke to quite a few senior ones, and I couldn’t find one supporter [of Pietersen].
“I was interested in what the management thought and how Alastair Cook and the senior players felt. There was a significant amount of frustration in terms of [Kevin’s] attitude. Are you really fighting it out?
“There was a feeling Kevin wasn’t engaged in the way he should be. At times, Michael Clarke (the Australia captain) played him almost like a schoolboy. I watched every ball of the final Test in Sydney and I’ve never seen anyone as disinterested or distracted on a cricket field.
“There were accusations he had too many different agendas and wasn’t 100 per cent focused on playing for England. Who knows if that’s right, but that was the unanimous feeling. We had to rebuild the side and decide who we were going to back.
“Was it going to be Alastair Cook, and players like Ian Bell? Or was it going to be Kevin? It became a bit of a no-brainer. The team had to grow and be rebuilt and we couldn’t do that with Kevin in the side.
“The sooner people understand we have cut our ties with KP and move on and investing in younger players coming in, rebuild side, the better.
“We tried to look at facts and make the best decisions. People will say we’re wrong and we’ll see. It puts pressure on the guys now and there is demand for instant success, but it will take time.
“After we took the decision about Kevin, the lawyers took three days to argue to and fro and it did leave a vacuum. I’d been in job a week and didn’t know how best to handle it. I was not aware of the power of social media at the time, but I am now.
“Kevin was starting to play a bit like a luxury player. There was a “this-is-the-way-I-play” type of attitude. He had not been fit an awful lot and he wasn’t producing the results he once had. We felt like we couldn’t trust him as a senior player to build the side around.”
Downton also said it was Pietersen, rather than the ECB, who had pushed for a severance deal on his central contract after it became clear he would not be selected for the World Twenty20 tournament this spring. Downton said the 33-year-old was keen to play a full part in the lucrative Indian Premier League when he learned of England’s plans.
In a wide-ranging discussion, Downton also told BBC Test Match Special the board had “not seriously” considered sacking Cook after the Ashes debacle, while he revealed that he had visited Jonathan Trott at his Birmingham home on Wednesday. Trott is taking a break from cricket due to a stress-related condition that Downton said was linked specifically to his job.
It would be fascinating to hear the England players’ reactions to Downton’s views on their attitude, and the “defensive” style of cricket they played last year, when Downton’s predecessor Hugh Morris was in the job.
“Maybe as a collective, the team got into a mindset that they were better than they were, because kept coming back from difficult situations,” he said. “No-one was deliberately complacent but maybe their success turned out to be a false cocoon around them.
“We couldn’t recreate same sense of urgency. The tanks were empty. There was huge focus to win in India in 2012 and then keep the Ashes the following summer, but the team were starting to play slightly defensive cricket. Rather than attack, you hold what you’ve got. We then fell apart in Australia under immense pressure.
“It is very easy for people to criticise the captain but even though it was a very experienced team, there was a lack of leadership in that dressing room [in Australia]. It’s very rare to have such a settled group for so long, and it’s very difficult not to become stale.
“But Alastair Cook is an outstanding man. He knows this is an opportunity for him and I’d back to him to go on and make this his team now. He is guaranteed a place in the side and now he has to step up and make the side his own.”