A sense of crisis is engulfing English cricket. For the players who have just returned from Australia, the long flight home provided ample opportunity to reflect on one of the most disastrous sporting winters in memory: 12 out of 13 international matches were lost.
Last week Andy Flower, one of the most effective, respected and successful coaches England have ever had, resigned (some say he was pushed). And this week Kevin Pietersen, perhaps the most successful – and certainly the most flamboyant – England player of his generation, was sacked inexplicably.
Today, then, England stand battered in the Ashes, without a coach, devoid of their best (and in-form) player, and facing a timetable that includes both a Twenty20 and 50-over World Cup in quick succession. Their problems have been compounded by shoddy management. Pietersen’s departure is absurd: because the England and Wales Cricket Board won’t explain the reasons behind it, social media and the cricket fraternity are rife with scurrilous rumours, and the appointment of Paul Downton as the ECB’s managing director has been overshadowed. On Twitter this week he was referred to as “DowntonShabby.”
In the 1990s, under captain Nasser Hussain and coach Duncan Fletcher, England went from being a joke on the international stage to world-beaters and, eventually, the No 1 team. Over the past three months, English cricket has seemed farcical again, except this time the joke isn’t funny. If they are to restore pride, stability and excellence, the ECB need to move swiftly and decisively.
They should explain Pietersen’s departure, and put an end to the rumours and speculation. Installing a new coach is a matter of urgency. With a new coach, and a loud public endorsement of captain Alastair Cook, they can then get to work building the team that will travel to the Caribbean later this month. That they are doing so without a much needed star is baffling, unnecessary, and ultimately counter-productive.