Anyone in the vicinity of Twitter yesterday will have been aware of Piers Morgan’s outrage at the sacking of Kevin Pietersen from the England Test team, never to return, so it would seem. He branded the decision to discard Pietersen from the England set-up “the worst in English cricket history”; some might argue that Nasser Hussain’s decision to put Australia in to bat in 2002 was worse, but that is of course, beside the point. The Pietersen sacking is certainly the most controversial.
It is by no means the first time that Kevin Pietersen has found himself at the centre of negative controversial: his introduction to the team as a South African national upset many from his birthplace, he was only able to retain the England captaincy for one Test match, and then there was the infamous “textgate” in South Africa once again. Graeme Swann claimed that the wounds from that incident healed over time, but like a wife who takes back her cheating husband, it was never the same.
KP was one of the central figures of the England dressing room which it would appear, totally collapsed in the heat of Australia. There were many reasons for England’s dreadful tour Down Under, but there can be no doubt that a disparate group of players was one of them; the contrast between themselves and the Australians under one of their own, beloved Darren Lehman, was remarkably evident.
The logic behind removing Pietersen is startingly simple: for once, the ECB are learning from past mistakes. They are aware of how damaging it can be to blood young players in losing, toxic teams, and appear to have realised that when you are at rock bottom, which they believe they are, you have nothing to lose. They are looking much further ahead than India in the summer, or even the 2015 Ashes. Paul Downton wants to build a new generation of English cricketers.
At the very very heart of it is talent recognition. There is a very promising crop of young cricketers coming through county cricket, led by players like Ben Stokes and Joe Root who have now established themselves in the side, but apparently despite the circumstances, not because of them. Downton and the rest of the ECB want those two, both jovial and professional personalities, to become the new leaders of the side, who will play in all formats and provide a more receptive environment of which Gary Ballance, Tymal Mills, Scott Borthwick, Rhys Topley and others can make themselves established members.
With Pietersen and Swann, both huge egos, still sitting in that changing room, that would have been impossible – there simply wouldn’t have been room for players to come in and feel comfortable. It smacks of the old days of the England dressing room under Nasser Hussain when you kept your head down when things were going wrong, lest it be bitten off.
There is no denying that Pietersen could have played another couple of years of Test cricket, nor that he is an exceptional cricketer. Unfortunately though, if you cannot be part of a team, you will never be one of the great cricketers. His removal sends a clear message that will resonate through English cricket: no-one is bigger than the team. As for Piers Morgan, he needs to reread his own Twitter profile, which has no personal description, merely a quote: “One day you’re the cock of the walk, the next you’re a feather duster.”