27 May 2014

Shaky start for Downton

By all accounts, Paul Downton is a good selection for the England Cricket MD position, but I can't say his immediately endeared himself to me in his position.   My memories of his playing days are hazey but in short I remember someone who was picked for his batting rather than his keeping, but generally failed to deliver with the bat.   Of course his playing credentials are irrelevant to his current position, so I was looking forward to seeing how things would go.

The subject that's worried me is Kevin Pietersen.   Not the decision itself, as Pietersen disgraced himself with the whole South Africa/Strauss incident and was lucky to get a second chance, but more the rationale behind the decision.

Downton has said that he went to Sydney for the final game of The Ashes and observed a player that was "disengaged".   I watched a fair bit of it myself and there were a few of Pietersen's colleagues who didn't appear to be 100% either....not a total surprise as they were getting beaten for the fifth time.   Graeme Swann couldn't even be bothered to complete the tour.   But most importantly, I thought the comments from Downton showed a misunderstanding of "ego" players and completely undermined Alastair Cook.   Apparently Pietersen was ok to play when managed by strong people around him, but this was a new team and that was no longer the case.   The inference was that Cook is or was too weak to handle him - not a great statement of confidence in your captain.

I also find it hard to believe that Downton didn't come across players of Pietersen's ilk when playing.   We've all played with them - players who when losing can't be seen to be trying their hearts out because that would imply their best wasn't good enough.   Instead, as it becomes clear they'll lose, those players start to lark about, trying to pass off the inevitable defeat that is hurting them so badly as a trivial event.   It's part of how they manage to stroll out to bat as if they own the stage - when they're at their best they win, they believe.   In club cricket, another trait of these players is their desire to integrate with the opposition after your team has been soundly beaten (and no other time)....it's all part of their attempts not to let a terrible result dent their confidence - they're a winner.

Nevertheless, the decision to sack Pietersen was made and, strangely, a non-disclosure agreement was made between both parties.   At this stage it's difficult to see why that was necessary as Downton says there was no one incident that caused a problem on the tour (it remains to be seen if anything important comes out once the NDA runs out, but Downton appears to be talking pretty candidly despite the NDA).   Pietersen himself has publicly stated that he was not disengaged and has also questioned comments from Downton that he couldn't find one supporter of Pietersen.   Of course, we don't know how the questions were asked as any player wanting an international career was unlikely to say anything that could go against the prevailing attitude and potentially threaten their future selection.   But we do know that two of the players who assumed their international career was over after the tour, Carberry and Tremlett, came out and said that Pietersen hadn't been a problem on the tour.

So while Pietersen's sacking was to a certain extent inevitable, and his performances in Australia certainly did him no favours, Downton's handling of things to date have made me concerned for his potential to be successful in his role.   And while he keeps saying things that are opinions only, Pietersen will continually respond publicly and the team won't be able to move on fully.   It's a pity he appears to be doing his media training on the job rather than before taking such an important role.

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