Kevin Pietersen’s feud with the ECB had been subtly simmering in the lead up to the Headingley Test and when he made 149 and took four wickets one expects it was on everyone’s mind at some level. But if not Pietersen quickly dragged it to the forefront with a press conference where, after refusing to wait for his captain, he stated that Lord’s may be his last Test. He has since added fuel to the fire by suggesting that one of his teammates is behind a Twitter parody of him. Regardless of the accuracy or otherwise of that accusation (and it is ‘otherwise’) matters between Pietersen and the ECB certainly seem to be coming to a head and there is now the possibility that Lord’s won’t be his last Test, but that Headingley already was.
A lot has been made in the media and elsewhere about what the ECB ought to do. There are many suggesting that the ECB need to compromise with Pietersen, stating that having him leave the England team benefits no-one. That is all disputable and I will come back to it later, but what is clear is that the ECB have not handled the situation terribly well. I wrote some time ago why I thought they ought to have been more flexible about letting Pietersen retire from only ODIs. Since then there has been the revelation about KP wanting to miss Tests to play in the IPL that was leaked to the media. But the interesting thing is that it was leaked. Pietersen never said anything publicly and there is a reasonable suggestion that it was leaked in a (successful) attempt to discredit him. There is a strong suggestion that the ECB higher-ups are not merely not interested in compromise but are actively waging a PR war against Pietersen. Independent of anything else, this is simply not right and should stop immediately.
But Pietersen is far from blameless. His stated need to spend more time with his family and his desire to play a full season of the IPL (and now an interest in the Big Bash League as well) are mutually exclusive unless he meant that he has a second family in Dehli with whom he wants to spend more time. He claims that money is not his motivation and I do actually believe that, at least to an extent. But his motivations do not seem to be what he says they are either; it does not add up. He claims that there are ‘many issues’ to be addressed and it seems a fair bet that most of them revolve around Pietersen and his ego. The fact that he not only talked about how much the spectators want to see him play (so he wants to deny them that when it is inconvenient for him, apparently) and how it is hard to be him are telling. Part of the captaincy saga at the end of 2008 was that he wanted Andy Flower, then Peter Moores assistant, out as well. There is every chance that he is still unhappy over his failure.
I think in the end that the ECB need to take a hard stance with Pietersen. The argument that most employers would find a compromise for such an important performer does not hold weight for me. Not only is the spectator environment of a cricket team inherently unlike any other work environment, how many organisations of any type would respond positively to a request to miss two big meetings in order to do a bit of work for a high paying competitor? For all the faults of the ECB, Pietersen is being inherently unreasonable. I have never heard anyone who suggests that the ECB compromise with Pietersen actually suggest what sort of compromise could be reached; the implication often seems to be that the ECB should not compromise but cave into Pietersen’s demands. If his primary demand is to only retire from ODIs then something could probably be negotiated, but by definition Pietersen would have to make concessions as well. There can be no compromise on the issue of playing the whole IPL, in both the figurative sense that the ECB will (rightly) not budge and in the literal sense that there is no middle ground to be had. Either he plays in the whole tournament as he wants or, as is the case now, he plays in only part of it; there is no halfway between them. And as for the other issues, it is impossible to know if any compromise on them could be reached without knowing what they are. It is hard to imagine much that could be given to him without it being unfairly special treatment though. And once again, the nature of compromise would demand that KP budge from his position as well. It’s all well and good to say that the ECB should negotiate with him, but it is not that simple.
There is also the issue of team unity to be considered. Pietersen’s belief that one of his teammates is behind the Twitter parody of him is insane and paranoid on the face of it, there were Tweets sent whilst all of his teammates and the rather solid alibi of being in the field amongst other things, but it does show that there are dressing room problems. Pietersen also hinted at some in the press conference on Monday. If his teammates already dislike him, that is all the more reason for the ECB not to give him special treatment. In fact, I would go so far as to say it is a good reason for the ECB not to compromise with him at all. Dressing room unity is important and it is something at which Strauss and Flower have worked hard in the wake of the captaincy saga. But Pietersen has never really been able to fit in properly. He left Natal in a huff for England and he left Nottinghamshire by having his kit thrown off the balcony. His brief time as England captain was marked mostly by suggestions of dressing room cliques and he left Hampshire under a bit of a cloud as well. The attitude that he showed to his captain in his press conference was simply unacceptable. The other members of England’s dressing room do not seem to have any problem fitting in despite being a rather diverse bunch, so this problem seems to stem entirely from Pietersen. There is an easy solution to it.
I would not play Pietersen at Lord’s. I would not give him a swan song; I would not give him one last chance to impress. What started as a reasonable argument about workload has descended into irrationality, egotism and paranoia. There is no reason for the ECB to bend over to make accommodations for a player who only deigns to perform a few times a year and who is a disruptive influence on the dressing room throughout. No player, however good, is irreplaceable and no player is bigger than the team. If Pietersen cannot comprehend that then he must go and go immediately.