Burned Bridges

Overnight, Kevin Pietersen has played an epic innings of 326 not out for Surrey against Leicestershire. Naturally, this has refired the discussion on whether KP should be allowed back into the fold for the Ashes. It would probably be more accurate to say that KP has added fuel to the fire because KP was already a rather hot topic.

KP wants to play for England again. He chose to forgo IPL dollars to play for Surrey in order to build a case for reselection for England. Pietersen was making reconciliatory noises in Australia late last year. He wanted to bury the hatchet with Andrew Strauss and give him a big hug.

I guess you would all know that Kevin Pietersen has a feud with Andrew Strauss. I believe that in different contexts, that they have called either other a word that rhymes with the smallest puppy in the litter. But KP did it first. And KP did it when Strauss was his captain. And KP did it to the opposition. And now that Strauss is about to be announced as the new director of England Cricket so we should all know (including KP) what that means for KP.

A score of 326 is good and runs are needed for any player to press for reselection but I think he might still be a few short. I’m not referring to the fact that this is KP’s first century in 1st Class cricket for almost two years. Nor to the fact that he was dropped four times in his monster innings (at 95, 110, 195 and 223) – he could have been out before he even reached triple figures. What I am referring to is best illustrated with an anecdote. Wayne Phillips was an Australian ‘keeper/batsmen in the eighties. He was dropped from the Test team and made some antagonistic remarks about the selectors. He had a good summer in the Shield which culminated in an innings of 213 as he shared a world record partnership with David Hookes. At the end of play, a reporter asked Phillips how many more runs he needed to impress the selectors. Phillips witty and pragmatic response was, “About one thousand”.

Surely KP does not expect to ever play for England again. I say this for two reasons – the most obvious is that you cannot speak out against authority – to bite the hand that feeds you – and not expect to be exiled. That would be against the natural order of the cricket universe. Most universes, in fact. The second is that even if KP did add some spine, some mongrel, some hope to the English batting line-up and even if Andrew Strauss was prepared to reciprocate KP’s hug, you cannot ignore the effects of the disharmony that KP can create. He has an ego bigger than Mohammad Ali in his prime. He has demonstrated that he is a team player only when it suits him. It’s not going to happen.

I thought I would look at some cases over history where players did or said the wrong thing and it cost them. Selectors and sports administrators have long memories. Simon Katich once had a dressing room fight with Michael Clarke (before Clarke was captain). Some time later, Katich was lured into making some public remarks about his feelings for Clarke and really shot himself in the foot. It transpired that Australia went through the doldrums after that and Katich, who had been suddenly dropped, could have been recalled to the team but wasn’t. Eventually, the selectors went as far as to say that it was an error to drop Katich when they did but of course, with Clarke now captain, their hands were tied when it came to correcting that error.

Shane Warne never lost his place in the team or Australian cricket due to misdemeanours (except the drug scandal) but you would have to think that it cost him the captaincy. Surely SK Warne would have been Test captain if not for some of his on and off field high jinx.

I have already mentioned the outspoken Wayne Phillips and there are other cases. Keith Miller was mysteriously omitted from the tour to South Africa in 1949-50 and while it has never been established just why, it is commonly accepted that he was a non-conformist and had also ruffled Donald Bradman’s feathers. I should say that while some people blame Bradman directly, I have read an account of that selection decision, of which Bradman was part, which stated that Bradman was the only selector to vote for Miller’s inclusion. And also note that Miller was included in the team when Bill Johnston was injured. This was early in Miller’s career so it obviously didn’t leave him in exile for the long term, thankfully.

Around that same time, Sid Barnes was another non-conformist that cricket authorities struggled to control. Towards the end of his career in 1952, Barnes had found himself dropped from the Test team. He made a series of good Shield scores that warranted reselection. When no invitation from the selectors was forthcoming, he requested to be made 12th man for NSW in the next Shield match. He performed his on-field duties in a three piece suit and sunglasses, offering towels, cigars and scent to the players, along with drinks in real glasses. Barnes may have already burned his bridges but he left nothing to chance with those actions. The 3rd Fusiliers demolition unit could not have done better.

There must be more examples and I invite you to comment on the blog if you wish to add any. KP has as much chance of playing for England in the 2015 Ashes as Piers Morgan. I don’t really know whether he would be a help or a hindrance to England but we are not going to find out.