Friday, 8 June 2012

Kevin Pietersen Stopped Play ... And It Rained

Jimmy Anderson - not a happy chappy
No play on the first day of the final Test between England and West Indies scheduled for Edgbaston and quite likely only limited opportunities for play on the second day as well. In fact, apart from the third day where the sun may appear, the rest of the Test looks like being very wet.

A wash out may be just the tonic for the England selectors and their coach, Andy Flower. Faced with increasing pressure on their playing staff because of too much cricket being scheduled by greedy administrators,  Flower and the selectors have already flagged Jimmy Anderson for a rest in this dead rubber game and will likely stand Stuart Broad aside as well should the rain further delay the toss tomorrow. Steve Finn will play in Anderson's place and Graham Onions will grab Broad's position. Flower is not alone in this approach, with both Mickey Arthur and John Inverarity making it clear that a fully fit group of Australian quicks will be rostered on and off games. This has happened for years in ODI games but it will be a new policy to Test cricket.

The telling media leak is that Anderson is furious over the decision.

Prior to that, the most famous episode was the "resting" of Australia's leading fast bowler, Graham "Garth" McKenzie after two Tests of the 1967-68 series against India. Australia had brushed the Indians aside in Adelaide and Melbourne, McKenzie taking 13 wickets, including 7-67 at the MCG. He was stood down to blood Eric Freeman, allow Neil Hawke to return and give Dave Renneberg a lengthy debut, all in preparation for the Ashes tour to England later that year. At his career's end, McKenzie finished just two wickets short of the then Australian wicket taking record of Richie Benaud (248).

Its a dumb practice. Without doubt, there is too much cricket scheduled but in this instance, preference is being given to make sure Anderson and Broad are able to stay fit for all of their commitments ahead in the English summer, which includes one day and T20 series against South Africa and Australia ... yes, Australia. The chance to fill county grounds with bodies for five days of ODI cricket against the oldest enemy is too much for administrators in either country to resist. Bugger the players. Well, they just might.

Test matches must remain the sacred cow of international cricket and the ICC themselves should be acting in this matter. Only they can ensure that sides play at full strength, subject to availability of their players, to maintain the integrity of Test cricket. When Australia crowds turn up to watch South Africa next summer in the last Test, they won't care if either side has already won the series. They will have bought their tickets in advance to watch the best teams play, not a game without Dale Steyn or Jacques Kallis or perhaps James Pattinson or Ben Hilfenhaus ... because they are being rotated out.

KP - resigned to the outcome
Availability comes into question following the retirement from international short forms of the game by the wild child of cricket, Kevin Pietersen. Are we really surprised after the treatment he has received at the hands of the ECB? There is little doubt Pietersen is a hexagonal peg which has tried to fit into a circular hole - he of too many sides to his character trying to mesh with an organisation which sees itself as perfect. In an interview with Nasar Hussain recorded seven years ago just before his Test debut and aired again last night on Sky/Fox/Austar, the differences were obvious. His diamond ear stud glistened below the then skunk hairdo as he sat in his bright pink shirt talking with the dour straight man of English cricket. Even then there were three or four issues simmering and he hadn't even worn the England cap. His controversial time as England Test captain and subsequent sacking, the texting incident earlier in this series and the refusal of the CB to bend their rules in regard players having to be available for both short forms of the game in the one contract, are just three incidents from his last four years which provide enough reason for him to hold the ECB in contempt.

The ECB maintains through it unofficial spokesmen - the former skippers on the Sky Sports commentary team - that the contracts are designed to protect ODI cricket, given the greater desire the players have to play T20 cricket. Given a choice, many of the best would make themselves unavailable for ODIs. Ian Botham, a role model for Pietersen's short captaincy stint, disagrees with the ECB but them Beefy disagrees with most convention.

Petulance then? When you are already the highest ranked T20 player in the world and can write your own contract to play in the burgeoning number of T20 tournaments - the IPL chief among them but the Australia's Big Bash catching up - why does he need to play for England? Loyalty in sport died a silent death in cricket in the late 1990's, after earlier haemorrhages in rebel tours to South Africa. Corruption has played its part in the last 15 years but so have the money grubbing administrators, keen to milk the cash cow dry. The ECB and its lackeys can talk it up all they want, but Pietersen's decision won't be the only one made by players who want to ensure they have more control over how their skills are used.

It underlines again the need for a great rationalisation of the international program and the way the calendar is filled. We have seen a plethora of two Test series in the last few years which died at 1-1 in want of at least the chance of a decider. To have the two best southern hemisphere teams play a two Test series last November whilst another five days were wasted in ODIs and T20's was a joke no one, including the players, were laughing at. It is increasingly obvious that ODI's must be phased out and replaced with T20 cricket but even then, players must have more say in the programming.

Too much cricket might well be enough unless someone remembers the game itself is the reward and not the endless pursuit of the revenue it raises.