Tuesday, 10 March 2015

The Curse of KP - Kevin Pietersen

Simon Barnes in Cricinfo

There will be a great deal of analysis of England's performance at the World Cup and their consequent failure to reach the knockout stage after their defeat by Bangladesh. Most of it will be concerned with England's traditional shortcomings in 50-over cricket.

People will point out that England are hopelessly out of date, still stuck in the approach they used when they played ODIs with a red ball - and it was a bit rusty then. They will talk about Joe Root and Ian Bell scoring 24 runs off 38 balls as a classic example of this fuddy-duddiness, and they will be right.

They will speak about English snobbery, the hierarchical way they view the various forms of cricket, with ODIs as the poor relation to Test cricket - even though this overlooks the fact that over the last 18 months England have been almost equally poor in Test matches.

That's not a cheap shot. England's limitations in limited-overs cricket don't matter. The real issue is that the team is broken. Broken in all the forms in which it appears. Shattered. Traumatised. Wrecked. Destroyed. And apparently incapable of healing itself.

The problems with 50-over cricket are what scientists would call the proximate cause of this disaster. If England want to set things aright, they must look to the ultimate cause.

That means checking out the Curse of the Bambino. This is a baseball story: it tells of the problems that affected the Boston Red Sox after they traded Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees. They failed to win the World Series again until 2004: a barren patch of 86 years.

England are suffering from the Curse of KP: and nearly a year after his sacking the team in all its forms is worse off than ever. Against Bangladesh the two witless run-outs, the wading-through-treacle batting, and the tendency for wickets to fall in clusters showed a deeper malaise than their inability to get their heads around a different format of cricket.

How did it begin? I watched England when they were - briefly - at the very peak of the Test match rankings. I watched them destroy Australia in Australia, I watched them hammer India in India, and in both these efforts, Kevin Pietersen was at the heart of it.

England are the team that died of a joke. It's a fact that tyrants and other kinds of egomaniac hate jokes. They don't understand them - apart from someone slipping on a banana skin and breaking his neck. It follows that jokes are often the most powerful weapons against such people.

The parody Twitter account KPGenius caused deep pain to Pietersen. It follows that it gave deep delight to people in the England team who found Pietersen difficult to deal with. The subversive giggling created a deep fissure through the team. When you have such a geology it doesn't take much to create a major landslide.

And that's what happened when England went to Australia in 2013 still fancying themselves a great cricket team. Mitchell Johnson's ferocious bowling acted like a ton of dynamite on that fault line and the team collapsed. A team of talented players found that they could do no right. It was a tour punctuated by the departure of cricketers who could take no more, and it was followed by that of coaches who felt the same.

This was bad enough, but in seeking a cure, England made it far worse. They made a great to-do of sacking Pietersen and setting up his beleaguered captain, Alastair Cook, as a moral rallying point for an England relaunch. This role was too much for Cook and the traumatised team he was leading.

Cook's own form fell away and he was replaced as one-day captain just before the World Cup. They brought in Eoin Morgan instead - not a bad plan, except that Morgan can't buy a run himself, looks like a busted flush in all forms of cricket, and in the decisive match against Bangladesh was out third ball for nought.

All this after England had shunted the Ashes series around - itself a disastrous decision - to give themselves a full winter of white-ball cricket to get ready for this tournament. And just to add another pint of bat's blood to this witch's brew, the incoming chairman of the England and Wales Cricket Board, Colin Graves, has just suggested that there was a way open for Pietersen's return.

Either Graves is stupid or he is deliberately destabilising Cook, Paul Downton, chief exec of the ECB, and the head coach, Peter Moores, all at once. No other interpretation is possible. Certainly it did a grand job of upsetting an already troubled team on the eve of the crucial match of the World Cup.

So the Curse of KP continues. The result is a team in mental paralysis. I remember Steve Davis, the great snooker player, telling me: "It's all right to miss a ball. You're entitled to miss a ball. It's when you start thinking wrong that you're in trouble."

And that's England. They have been thinking wrong ever since Johnson dynamited the fissure and caused England's collapse. The executive, the coaches, the captains, the players: all incapable of thinking straight in the desperately difficult times that began with defeat at the hands of Australia and continue to this day.

England can't play one-day cricket very well, but that's old news. The real problem is that right now they can't play any kind of cricket. I know they beat India in the Test matches last summer, but India, notoriously poor travellers, went out of their way to help them.

This defeat by Bangladesh, this untimely and undignified exit from the World Cup is not a new problem, nor is it a pure cricketing matter. It's the logical result of trauma. Bangladesh were good enough to prey on England's weakness and doubt, and take a famous victory.

The Curse of KP strikes again. Never mind, perhaps England will win the World Cup in 86 years' time.

1 comment: