KP as captain: 'On side he's brilliant – but if cracks begin to appear...'
Kevin Pietersen has divided opinions ever since he arrived in England as former team-mates can testify. Stephen Brenkley explores a chequered record
Wednesday 07 January 2009
Suddenly Graham Ford is the hot favourite to be the next coach of England. Some bookmakers put him at odds-on last night, others placed him at the head of a field in which Ashley Giles, retired as a player for all of two years, was in second place.
The chief motivating factor for this state of affairs appeared to be a sentence in Kevin Pietersen's autobiography in which he said that Ford, director of cricket at Kent for the last three years and a former coach of South Africa, is "someone I both respect and admire". Given that the respect and admiration of the captain appear to have emerged as the most significant credentials in appointing the next coach (should, indeed, there be a next coach) it might make Ford a shoo-in.
On the other hand, the England and Wales Cricket Board may consider taking a little more time. When Peter Moores was appointed to succeed Duncan Fletcher in 2007 the deal was done and dusted within 48 hours of Fletcher's departure. And look where it has got them. It is understood that senior officials at the ECB were updated last night on the position and a decision will be made any time in the next three days.
Moores and Pietersen (and the former helped to appoint the latter only last August) are thought be so deeply divided that rapprochement is unlikely, bordering on impossible. Or at least that is the general feeling from outside the England camp. From inside it there has been neither announcement nor plumes of white smoke, unless you count the bland statement which Pietersen issued via his newspaper column at the weekend in which he at least admitted that there were issues.
Otherwise silence, with Hugh Morris, the managing director of the England team, who has to sort out the mess politely declining to comment. None the less, the feeling grows that if Morris can effect reconciliation on this one he should consider applying to Relate as head counsellor should the cricket thing not work out in the fullness of time.
In the absence of proper progress, the dissection of Pietersen's character and approach remains the order of the day. As he has always done since coming to England, and as he will almost certainly do until the day he dies, he divides opinion.
It was like that in Nottinghamshire six years ago and what happened there bears similarity to what is happening now. Pietersen had been taken to the county by Clive Rice, a South African whom he presumably respected and admired. When Rice left the county, however, things started to go wrong. He did not like the new regime and he fell out terminally with Jason Gallian, the county's captain. Gallian, the most un-Australian of Australians, is sedulous in reflecting on his relationship with Pietersen and is clearly not proud of his own part in it, which culminated in Gallian hurling some of Pietersen's kit over the dressing-room balcony at Trent Bridge.
"It was one cricket bat but it's been well documented that everything went out of the window," said Gallian yesterday. "Probably my dummy as well." Things grew so bad between Pietersen and Gallian that Pietersen not only wanted to leave with a year of his contract running at the end of the 2003 season but a restraining order was taken out on Gallian that winter when he attempted to contact Pietersen to discuss their differences.
"For anybody who knows me, to have ended the way it did with me reacting the way I did was out of character," said Gallian. "There were a number of factors which I don't really want to go into because it wouldn't be fair on Kevin and there has to be a certain amount of trust between a captain and his players."
On reflection, Pietersen by his own admission might have handled things differently during his latter days at Nottinhgamshire. In the event he decided not to pursue his threat of a claim for constructive dismissal and played until the end of his contract in 2004. "There was a similar situation at Notts to what exists now," said Gallian. "Clive Rice was released from his contract, which brought Mick Newell into the fold. Clive, like Duncan Fletcher at England, was highly rated and respected by Kevin, but then somebody who in Kevin's eyes was a lesser person and coach was put in charge. He is confident and forceful with it. If you have got him on side he is brilliant and if he buys into what you are doing there is no better player to have on your side. In the same way, if cracks begin to appear it's a different story."
Gallian was reluctant to state his case and from the measured tone of his voice has no axe to grind five years on. But from his personal experience he might have seen this coming. "When Mick came in at Notts and I was captain we made the decision to drop him because his performances weren't good enough, which I think Clive also intended to do. It was just to try to get some runs in the second team, which he did and he has never looked back since. Unfortunately, we got ourselves into a pretty precarious situation."
In the event, Gallian offered to step down, but was asked to continue as captain by the club. It is intriguing that the man who ultimately declined his resignation and ensured that Pietersen returned was David Collier, then the chief executive of Nottinghamshire, who now fulfils that function for the ECB.
Gallian said: "That winter I tried to speak to Kevin, which he didn't want to do and to the point where I had a restraining order put on me, which was fine. When he turned up for pre-season training the following year we shook hands and got on with it. I haven't spoken to Kevin for a long time and it's fair to say we don't exchange Christmas cards."
In the past few days there has been an element of "I told you so" in the reaction to the imbroglio. Gallian thinks likewise. "He's a fine player who won us many a game. I was hoping things like this wouldn't occur but they have," he said. "I'm not entirely surprised by what seems to be happening because that may be the way Kevin works in terms of the way he sees people. Harking back, both Clive Rice and Duncan Fletcher are strong characters he respected, as well as being southern Africans. If he hasn't got respect for that person and that player, then I think they struggle."
Ford would seem to fit into the former category. Like Pietersen, he is at present in South Africa, land of his birth. Considering the conspiratorial manner in which this story has unfolded is it stretching the imagination too far to suggest that KP and Fordy have met up somewhere on the veld to discuss their vision for the future of the England team? Of course it is.
They have known each other for years. Ford was coach of Natal when Pietersen was coming through the ranks and tried to dissuade him from coming to England as a teenager slightly disaffected by the quota system, which gave black and coloured players an advantage. But the respect and admiration have remained.
After Bob Woolmer left as South Africa's coach in 1999, Ford took over. He was brought down three years later by a combination of the political upheaval which was rife in the country's sport at the time and because his side were hammered in two successive series by Australia.
Ford's first summer at Kent was in 2005. In his time there he has already been approached by India and New Zealand about coaching their national sides while Kent have finished fifth, fifth, seventh and eighth, the latter position last summer meaning they were relegated from First Division of the County Championship for the first time and so lose their status as the only county never to have played in the Second Division.
Still, there is no doubt that Ford is highly thought of and is a keen student of the technical aspects of the game. It could not be said, however, that he has nurtured home-grown players to the hilt in his time at Kent, a county which was once renowned for the players born within its borders. Instead, he has frequently looked to home and six South African cricketers have played for Kent either as overseas or Kolpak players in his three years. In one match against Hampshire last summer seven players appeared who were neither born nor learnt their cricket in England. That and much else besides may be worth Morris considering as he contemplates the future of England this week.
Ford Focus: Vital statistics
Graham Xavier Ford
Born: 16 November, 1960, Natal
* Ford was a South African first-class cricketer who now holds the position as director of cricket at Kent.
* He played seven games for Natal B as a right-handed batsman, having also had success in tennis and football, where he represented his province. He is also a qualified rugby union referee.
* Ford was appointed Natal coach in 1992, signing Malcolm Marshall, Clive Rice, Shaun Pollock, Jonty Rhodes and Lance Klusener. Under his guidance Natal lifted the first-class and one-day trophies in the 1996-97 season.
* In 1998 he coached South Africa A before being named assistant to Bob Woolmer before the 1999 World Cup. Ford replaced Woolmer after the tournament, winning nine of 11 series.
* After being fired by his country in 2001, Ford was named director of cricket at Kent in 2005 and also coached Natal in 2006. He turned down the offer of coaching India in 2007.
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