Cricket Watch

Lessons to be learnt from Pietersen controversy

Kevin Pietersen
Kevin Pietersen.jpg

The startling revelations made by Kevin Pietersen in his controversial autobiography and the angry reaction by the current England captain and his predecessor to claims of a bullying culture within the England cricket team, has underlined the importance of sustaining a healthy culture within also the South African dressing room.

Both current England captain Alistair Cook and his predecessor, Andrew Strauss, have vehemently denied the claims of a bullying culture within the England team. But Pietersen has received some support from two former international cricket captains, Graeme Smith and Ricky Ponting.

Cook said he was hurt by accusations made in Pietersen’s autobiography.
"I think it's been a really sad week for cricket. We have to draw a line under it at some stage and this is a good time," he told the BBC.

"International cricket is a tough place and, as a team, you're striving for excellence at all times.

"Certainly at some stages those frustrations boiled over more than they should have done, but that was only people who were desperate to succeed and wanting to know the other 10 blokes around them were committed 100% to it also.

"Did it overstep the mark a couple of times? Possibly, but we addressed those issues. That's what happens in teams, but it certainly wasn't a bullying environment as such," he said.

Pietersen was axed following the 5-0 Ashes defeat in Australia at the start of the year, with England inferring the South Africa-born batsman was not a team player.
Pietersen represented England in 104 tests and was arguably one of the most successful England players ever in Tests as well as in One Day Internationals.

Strauss feared the “madness” around KP’s book would damage the England team. He also defended the legacy of former coach Andy Flower.

“There’s been a lot of rumour, innuendo and opinion. I prefer to stick with the facts. All this tit-for-tat stuff, I don’t think really helps the England cricket team.

“Andy Flower is a guy of complete integrity. If you look at [his] record as coach, it’s second to none. He’s achieved phenomenal things, and rightly should be regarded as one of England’s great coaches.

“The victim here really isn’t Kevin Pietersen, or Flower or [Matt] Prior or anyone; it’s actually the England cricket team and Alastair Cook and Peter Moores, who’ve got to try to take the side forward. That, to me, is the disappointing thing about this whole episode,” he said.

Pietersen was scathing in his remarks about Flower. He said a clique choked the England team and Flower let that clique grow like a bad weed, Pietersen claimed.

He also claimed that the dressing room slowly became the territory of those biggest mouths amongst the bowlers – and a wicketkeeper. They ran an exclusive club. If you were outside the clique, you were fair game for mocking, ridicule, bullying. That’s what those guys did.

“I’d spoken about the abuse on the field that Prior, Broad, Jimmy Anderson and Swann were giving the fielders. It was the closest I’ve ever come to thinking I could willingly slap two guys on my own team,” he added.

The England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) confirmed that it would not be reopening its investigation into the Pietersen parody Twitter account which reduced Pietersen to tears during a Test match against South Africa. The author of the account made some abusive comments targeting Pietersen.

Alec Stewart, a former England wicketkeeper, told the Telegraph that he reported to the ECB that he had been told by the account’s author that Tim Bresnan, Graeme Swann and Stuart Broad had access to the account, although he did not accuse them of posting any tweets.

What other captains say

Smith was the captain of South Africa when tension within the England team over the parody account was at its highest in 2012 and used the fractious atmosphere to his side’s advantage.

“Having played against them we always used to say if we could get a win or get ahead, that they would turn on each other.

“A lot of the stuff that he’s touched on in his book, the bullying stuff, you certainly did experience some of it when you played against them and you knew you could use it as an asset to get on the other side of them,” Smith said.

Ponting also supported some of the claims made by Pietersen in his autobiography.
Speaking about the abusive language by senior bowlers when fieldsmen dropped catches or erred, Ponting said: "We saw them doing it. James Anderson was always the same, and Graeme Swann - the pointing of fingers and you'd hear a few expletives if there was a misfield or a dropped catch.

"The guys who were doing it were the so-called leaders. That's where the captain has got to come in, not wait and let little things turn into big things. That's what it sounds like has happened in this England team," he said.

Ponting also says he detected signs of mental weakness in England's players even as they were inflicting those three series defeats.

"They had a lot of very good players that were able to achieve a lot of success as a team," said the Tasmanian, who was also skipper when Australia whitewashed England in 2006/7.
"But if you could just get inside of them and start pulling them apart, we always had a feeling they would implode pretty quickly and that's what's happened over the past 12 months.

The allegations made by Pietersen and the support of some of his claims by Smith and Ponting do reveal a lack of leadership in the England team structure.

What was needed, was for a captain and a coach to step in to nip such indiscretions in the bud, to probe accusations about bowlers who were shouting abuse, and to deal with a clique that was undermining the unity within the dressing room.

Where there is smoke, there is fire. Pietersen was reportedly guilty of some offences himself, notably the text messages sent about Strauss to members of the SA team on their tour to the United Kingdom in 2012.

All of these things could have been dealt with in a healthier and constructive way by the ECB and senior role-players like the captain, coach and manager.

Cricket South Africa (CSA) should learn from this dark chapter in the history of English cricket. A checklist should be drawn up to consistently ensure that a healthy team environment, constructive criticism, dialogue, robust discussions and frank and earnest debate about weaknesses are present so that a toxic culture doesn’t develop.

by Fanie Heyns

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