Team-mates do not have to be mates, but the tenor of Michael Clarke's thoughts about Shane Watson were still fairly shocking when they became public in July 2013. Clarke, according to freshly sacked coach Mickey Arthur, thought Watson was a “cancer” in his Australia team.
Arthur was taking Cricket Australia to court for unfair dismissal and described himself as the “meat in the sandwich” between feuding captain Clarke and the all-rounder Watson. Four months previously, Watson, then vice-captain, was suspended from the team and flew home from India after failing to complete a “homework” assignment set by Clarke and Arthur. Australia lost that series 4-0.
And yet, on Friday morning at the Adelaide Oval, there were Clarke and Watson playing together in a World Cup quarter-final. Watson came in when Clarke got out and, despite taking a battering from Wahab Riaz, during which he was dropped at deep fine leg, Watson was in at the end, steering Australia into the semi-finals with an unbeaten 64 from 66 balls.
It was a comfortable win eventually and there was Clarke, nicknaming his old enemy afterwards. “Credit to the way Watto found a way to get through that spell and get us home tonight,” Clarke said. “He deserves a lot of credit for that.”
Australia will now face India in a semi-final at the SCG on Thursday and could well be up against co-hosts New Zealand in Sunday’s final.
Brendon McCullum’s side have been improving for years and have charmed and entertained at this World Cup, playing precisely the opposite form of cricket to England.
Their modern story, though, also grew out of acrimony. It was certainly not as toxic as the feud between Clarke and Watson but when McCullum replaced Ross Taylor as captain in December 2012, New Zealand cricket was not a happy place.
Kiwi coach Mike Hesson removed the captaincy from Taylor – Hesson insisted that he offered Taylor the chance to stay in charge of Tests – and a humiliated Taylor pulled out of New Zealand’s tour to South Africa. It was a sour mess: bowling coach Shane Bond accused Hesson of being “dishonest”, former coach Trent Woodhill said it was “unfathomable” and New Zealand Cricket publicly apologised to Taylor and his family for the handling of the saga.
Sir Richard Hadlee warned that it would be difficult for Taylor to return to the side but he did, against England in February 2013. Since then he has been an important part of an impressive team, scoring four Test centuries and six in ODIs, playing alongside McCullum and for him with commitment and focus.
All of which goes to show that in cricket no rift or split should be entirely unbridgeable. Good teams – in fact, the two best teams in the world in the last few years – have been built on riven foundations, on the energy of wounded pride.
You probably know where this is going next. Of course, there are things in cricket, and even in the world, that are not to do with Kevin Pietersen. But this is about more than just Pietersen. It is about us.
The English have shown recently that we are not very good at hitting boundaries during the middle overs, pushing for 350 or bowling at the death. But we are rather better at personalising our problems, nurturing grudges and allowing shared small-mindedness to get in the way of what matters most.
None of which is to say that the painful, tiresome silliness of the last few years is anything other than that, and it is certainly not worth revisiting or re-fighting here or anywhere else. There is the climax of the World Cup this week, after all.
But the news that the ECB’s incoming chairman Colin Graves has spoken to Pietersen is to be welcomed, as is the prospect of Pietersen meeting Graves and ECB chief executive Tom Harrison next month.
Pietersen’s enthusiasm to play county cricket this year, which he must do if he is to return, is admirable, especially given that it might cost him a portion of the Indian Premier League season.
Whether this rapprochement will be enough to get Pietersen back into the England team is a rather long shot.
Whether a hypothetical return would inspire England to play positive winning cricket here in the 2019 World Cup, when he will be almost 40, is remoter still. But there is a lot to be said for a little bit of open-mindedness.Reuse content