Cow Corner

Have the ECB mismanaged KP’s situation?

Cow Corner

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There was always going to be a backlash, only the ECB were perhaps not expecting it to come from Australian poker player and former cricketer Shane Warne.

When Kevin Pietersen announced his retirement from pyjama cricket - knowing full well that the ECB grouped both one-day internationals and Twenty20s together - the judgement of the governing body was inevitably called into question.

Far be it from KP to ever court controversy, but he made it patently clear from the outset that his intention was to retire from playing 50-over cricket, while still wanting to play in the game's shortest format.

The onus was subsequently switched on to the ECB to change their rules and principles in regard to allowing players (or just KP, in this case) to selectively retire from just the one format and not two.

Many viewed it as a cynical ploy from KP to take the attention away from the fact that he was retiring from England duty in two of the three formats at the age of just 32.

The flamboyant right-hander (when not playing the switch-hit) was not only in the prime of his career, but in sublime form when he made the shock decision to halt his limited overs career altogether.

Warne has slammed the England management for refusing to consider Pietersen for their defence of the ICC World Twenty20 title in Sri Lanka this autumn, referring to "a bit too much ego" which he suggests has been counter-productive.

"I don't think the ECB have shown much common sense at all with not allowing Kevin Pietersen to be available for the Twenty20 side," said Warne, who is in England as a member of the Sky commentary team for the series.

"Any team that hasn't got Kevin is significantly weaker. He's a matchwinner so that's a big loss. I am very surprised they didn't say: 'OK Kevin, we understand you want to balance your family commitments, you want to balance your professional career, you want to play for a long time, we understand all that — if you want to play just Twenty20 and Test cricket, OK that's great.'

"I think it's just a bit too much ego for my liking from the ECB. Who wouldn't want Kevin Pietersen in your side? He's a matchwinner and he puts bums on seats because people love watching him play. He rubs off on the rest of the players. So to me it's a huge loss.

"People might give up more one-day cricket or they might give up Twenty20. Michael Clarke's given up Twenty20 in Australia because he can't play all three forms at that level, but you can't imagine Australia dropping him and saying don't worry about one-day cricket, just stick to Tests."

"It staggers me and I'm very surprised that the ECB didn't try and negotiate that better, drop their egos and say: 'OK we understand this, we want to keep our best players playing all the time.'"

Equally, England's director of cricket Andy Flower rather ominously voiced concern that he will become detached from the rest of the England squad and will come to regret his decision to retire from limited-overs international cricket.

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Flower countered Pietersen's justification for his one-day retirement that the international schedule had become too heavy by revealing that he would have been rested from the ODI series against West Indies anyway and indicated that it may be tough for him to remain a part of a cohesive team unit.

"Even Andrew Strauss found it difficult with only playing the Test game," Flower said. "Part of our challenges are to constantly work on our unity and harmony. It is a danger that he could become detached but I hope it is not the case."

"I think it's sad for Kevin that he won't be playing all three forms of the game in international cricket. I'm not annoyed. I think it's quite sad. He's very clear about what he wants to do, so that's his choice.

"What is important is the reasons behind the ECB policy, and the reasons behind that policy is that 50-over cricket is an integral part of the goals set that the ECB want the international team to achieve. For the first time they want them to win a 50-over World Cup competition. There's also the ICC Champions Trophy; that's also a clear goal of the ECB."

The fact is, England will at least retain Pietersen's services in Test cricket until after the next Ashes series, and he will be a crucial part of the middle order to take on South Africa in what looks set to be a gruelling three-match series later this summer.

It could, however, be argued that Pietersen has now made himself dispensable on the basis that, by not being available for all formats of the game, he will not be considered one of the 'pillars' of the team.

As Flower indicated, Strauss has struggled to remain a part of the set up as a whole since being involved in just Test match cricket, and this is a man who turns up to matches in his tracksuit just to provide moral support for his peers.

Eoin Morgan stepped up superbly with his 89 in the first one-day international against Australia on Friday and Ian Bell has since filled the void left by Pietersen at the top of the order.

Meanwhile, if KP believed that his stance would force the ECB to change their policy on selection for limited-overs cricket, his plan looks to have failed. The ECB's determination not to allow ODI cricket to be degraded and apparent fear of a widespread withdrawal of players from 50-over cricket remains a strong justification for their hard line.

The reality of the situation is that every time England fail in a T20, questions will be asked of the ECB's policy; this is essentially unavoidable.

But England must move forward without Pietersen in limited-overs cricket and back the policy that has been put in place. If anything is to change for one man, it sets a very dangerous precedent.

Warne is, after all, a friend of Pietersen's and it is hardly a surprise to discover his views on the subject. But if anyone needed any convincing of the tight-knit unity which now exists within the ranks, they need only listen to Flower talk passionately about his England set up.

England will move on, and Pietersen has made his decision; the only party that may end up budging is the latter, who may yet re-evaluate his options and crave another bash at limited-overs cricket on the biggest stage.

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