After a great deal of thought and deliberation, I am today announcing my retirement from international one-day cricket. I am immensely proud of my achievements in the one-day game and still wish to be considered for selection for England in Test cricket.
Kevin Pietersen, 31 May 2012
The ECB’s Hugh Morris was “disappointed”, at least that was his public sentiment – privately he may well be poking pins into a voodoo doll with a penchant for shades and a love of biltong. Michael Vaughan, in The Telegraph, proclaimed that “when I first heard the news on Thursday my gut reaction was he should never play again and kick him out the team”. Fans, it seems, in a Twitter straw poll at least, are divided between dissecting the perceived short-sighted nature of the ECB’s stance and venting their vitriol at the IPL for ruining our great game – or a combination of the two.
Are there any winners? I can think of a couple of potential ones in Australia if only strike action is averted.
Pietersen’s announcement has broader significance than the impacts on England’s limited overs sides and it may only be the tip of an iceberg, the likes of which were made famous with the help of Leo and Kate, that has the potential to send ODI cricket the same way as the unsinkable ship on its maiden voyage. What many English fans forget, or simply don’t understand, is that other nations who lack the requisite financial resources have to deal with such issues on a regular basis. The true implications of Pietersen’s decision will only be borne out in the fullness of time but there’s a compelling back story.
There was an air of inevitably to Pietersen’s ultimate decision to retire from limited overs international cricket – the timing however, was anything but. Given it hadn’t truly been tested, it appears few but those deeply ensconced in English cricketing circles knew much of the central contract clause that players be available for both shorter formats. The playing decisions regarding Strauss and Cook hadn’t provided any hint of England’s close planning links either.
Given the T20 World Cup in Sri Lanka is only four months away it seems unfathomable that the game’s number one ranked T20 international batsman won’t be on the England roster. It will undoubtedly weaken the English side, both through the loss of talent and an attitude that any total is attainable – Pietersen’s unrelenting self-confidence is central to much of England’s T20 success. Could Pietersen not have waited until after the tournament? Is he so influential in England’s ODI side that the ECB couldn’t have allowed him to skip the Australian series?
The relationship between KP and the ECB - both stubborn, unwavering and immensely proud, has been on tenterhooks for some time. Pietersen’s outspoken request for the removal of Peter Moores signalled the beginning of the end. The most recent fine for saying on Twitter what many punters felt was likely the final straw; if only that it may have provoked Pietersen to choose him timing – the man loves the spotlight and feels best when the world revolves around him – the same could be said of many of sports most prodigious talents.
But what of his rationale for stepping down from an increasingly crammed limited overs schedule? Time with his family, age and its effect on his tiring body are all valid reasons, but there was no mention of the elephant holding pride of place in the corner of the room. The opportunity for the riches of the burgeoning domestic T20 circuit throughout the cricketing world cannot be underestimated – it would have been fitting for the self-assured Pietersen to have applied the same spectrum of truth to his reasons for retirement as he did to his critique of Nick Knight.
Would the decision have been less palatable had money been mentioned alongside other contributing factors? Initially, yes, but it would likely only linger for those who live in a bubble, insulated from the truth that money makes the world go round. But take a deep breath for minute, as Michael Vaughan would have been advised to have done when he first heard the news. Placed in the same situation, wouldn’t the vast majority of us take the riches on offer? Or would we remain in our nine-to-five ignoring large offers tabled by the competition? The difference for most of us is we don’t possess the marketable talent that makes players of Pietersen’s ilk so attractive.
For mine, the bigger question is the central contracts of cricket’s elite. Whilst I sympathise with the pleas of English fans for the ECB to be more flexible, Pietersen is equally complicit – he signed the contract and knew what it entailed – if not, he needs to find a new agent. Cricket is no longer just a sport, it’s big business; bigger than the corporations many of us work for. That said, shouldn’t central contracts be able to be negotiated?
How many top business executives would sign a standard contract – I’m sure those who work for Hugh Morris have personalised contracts? The overall nature may be similar to their colleagues but they all have individual clauses – why not cricketers? Shouldn’t a player’s abilities and tenure be taken into consideration?
If people’s perceptions that sport isn’t a business are removed doesn’t the Pietersen issue become an employment matter, not simply a cricketing one? Professional sportspeople, especially the elite in the US and Europe, all have various self-serving, and sometimes necessary, clauses in their contracts around training, corporate responsibilities, endorsements and playing time, amongst others. Contracts should be negotiated with an employer, not dictated to players. If players won't sign and can't arrive at a compromise then should they simply operate as a free agent - is it time to test national loyalties against the power of the dollar?
In stipulating the two shorter formats are inseparable will the ECB’s lack of flexibility prove to be prudent or short-sighted? Their assertion that the planning for T20 and ODI cricket are closely linked is surely a ruse – the games are as similar as north and south! Are the ECB just trying to protect their interests and the game as a whole? If more players could choose their formats would they all make themselves unavailable for ODIs, devaluing the brand and the ECB's gate income and sponsorship dollars - dollars that help fund the County game?
Living half a world away and not being as close to English cricketing politics as others, I’m not best placed to discuss Strauss’ 2009 exemption or that the current ODI captain doesn’t play T20, but from what I’ve read it seems to set an opposing precedent to the national body’s stance with Pietersen. Are the ECB willing to lose others, young and old, who see T20 as their meal ticket to a secure future? Will they cut off their nose in spite of a face already best suited to radio?
Given the rigidity of the England set-up, both at board level and on the playing front, I question how long it’s tenable for Pietersen to be a test specialist. The ECB don't take well to being slapped in the face, and I imagine Andy Flower isn't overly impressed either.
In the not too distant future will we now see Pietersen travelling the world with his good mate, Chris Gayle, as a T20 mercenary? If we do, good luck to him - it's a personal choice and if that is what he enjoys, and the coin helps, then good luck to him – he has both thrilled and frustrated us all; fan and foe, often in equal measures, with his international efforts.
There are no winners with Pietersen's retirement. The man himself loses his England T20 spot in spite of sterling service in a format he loves, the ECB foregoes one of its most marketable assets, team mates lose the game’s top-ranked batsman for the T20 World Cup and fans miss seeing KP in a coloured England uniform. In hindsight, a victor may emerge; Pietersen will have the opportunity to secure his financial future and the cricketing spotlight on the T20 circuit and Surrey will see more of their most high profile player; or will they?
From a selfish perspective; from a point of view not clouded by financial concerns, the global popularity of our great game or the growth of the cricket market, a player choosing test cricket above all else is not cause for concern – when that too goes by the wayside in favour of high octane cricket in three hour slots many more fans will sit up and take notice.
For the wider preservation and future development of our game, its administrators and power brokers cannot have the same blinkered view.
Tell me what you think – I’d love your thoughts. Post a comment below or tweet me @aotearoaxi.