2England and Wales Cricket Board logoAll new England, without KP

In the biggest crick­et news of the day Eng­land have announced Kev­in Pieterson will no longer be in their plans, effect­ively sack­ing their lead­ing bats­man.  This has finally triggered me to write my first art­icle since the dis­astrous Ashes series began nearly 2 months ago.  I’d like to give you fair warn­ing read­er, that as hard as I try to always be pos­it­ive about the great game there are occa­sion­al days where what needs say­ing just does­n’t feel very pos­it­ive.  This is one of them…

I wish to present a case to you, a case that at the top levels of Eng­lish crick­et there has been a series of ser­i­ous fail­ures, and that these fail­ures that show no sign of being cor­rec­ted.  I will also out­line my altern­at­ive to the cur­rent status quo.

1. The fail­ure to man­age KP

KP has been a tre­mend­ously suc­cess­ful crick­eter for Eng­land.  He is the play­er who par­tic­u­larly excites the crowd.  The guy who can totally change a game with the bat.  There haven’t been many like him, and won’t be many like him again.  He does how­ever have his issues, and these need care­ful, thought­ful and cre­at­ive man­age­ment.  When Michael Vaughan was cap­tain there wer­en’t the same pub­lic issues with KP, and when you hear Michael Vaughan talk about KP it is easy to tell why.  Vaughan is clearly someone with impress­ive people-man­age­ment skills.  The ECB should have ensured, after the first KP débâcle (when he was sacked as Cap­tain), that they had someone in place to man­age him.  As I argue below, I would infact extend this idea and believe the setup should have a fig­ure­head “man­ager” who man­ages the team, coaches, play­ers etc.  Someone like Michael Vaughan?

2. Fail­ure to man­age the media

The media haven’t been kind to Eng­land recently.  How­ever, most of this appears to me to be of England’s own mak­ing.  As a team they’ve appeared to the out­side world to be very insu­lar.  Every defeat or poor per­form­ance is met with a “we know best how to fix this” atti­tude which is both unne­ces­sar­ily defens­ive, and also guar­an­teed to frus­trate the pun­dits.  Frus­trated pun­dits still need to fill columns, which they do by find­ing oth­er things to write about, and these are fre­quently in less favour­able terms when the pun­dit in ques­tion has been effect­ively stone­walled by the team.  A basic study of media beha­viour, and indi­vidu­al psy­cho­logy, should have made it obvi­ous that more pos­it­ive con­nec­tions with the media would be a good idea — espe­cially as so many of the lead­ing pun­dits are former top crick­eters themselves.

3. The chal­lenges of captaincy

Cap­tain after cap­tain takes on the cap­taincy, and with­in a year sees their aver­age drop.  Eng­land have a long his­tory of appoint­ing top (and usu­ally open­ing) bats­men as cap­tain, who then loses form, put­ting them­selves and the team under pres­sure.  In the mod­ern game, with the numer­ous demands from spon­sors, media, etc the team setup needs to be re-eval­u­ated.  Pla­cing the primary respons­ib­il­it­ies on a play­er does­n’t seem sens­ible to me.  Can you ima­gine the play­er-cap­tain in a foot­ball team hav­ing the same level of respons­ib­il­it­ies?  The cap­tain already needs a sub­stan­tial range of skills — skill as a crick­et play­er, skill as a tac­ti­cian, and skill as a per­son-man­ager.  Heap­ing addi­tion­al respons­ib­il­it­ies on the cap­tain will, most likely, lead to a reduc­tion in the time and resources they have avail­able for their primary respons­ib­il­it­ies.  The ECB should appoint a team Man­ager, who has the same kinds of respons­ib­il­it­ies as a foot­ball man­ager.  This per­son should be respons­ible for all the media inter­views, whilst play­ers and cap­tain focus on the actu­al play­ing of the game.

4. Man­aging the coach­ing system

It seems to me that dif­fer­ent play­er per­son­al­it­ies click bet­ter with dif­fer­ent coaches.  Some (e.g. Alastair Cook) may well thrive with a highly tech­nic­al and crit­ic­al coach (a Geoff Boy­cott char­ac­ter for example), whilst oth­ers (Pieterson) clearly would­n’t get the best from this kind of coach.  So the obvi­ous ques­tion is why have a single bat­ting coach.  How about hav­ing a coach for each play­er, or for a coach for sev­er­al groups of play­ers.  The impact of find­ing the “right” coach is illus­trated nicely by the change in suc­cess for Andy Mur­ray after he star­ted work­ing with coach Ivan Lendl at the start of 2012.

5. Man­aging play­er selection

The Joe Root situ­ation is one that has again illus­trated how incom­pet­ent some think­ing in the Eng­land setup has been of late.  The ini­tial decision to bring in a very tal­en­ted young­ster was a good decision.  Since there everything has gone a bit astray.  Root should have been giv­en a year or more to slot into the team before he was moved to open­er.  Mov­ing him to open­er imme­di­ately ahead of an ashes series, albeit it at home against a poor Aus­tralia side, was not a sens­ible gamble, espe­cially with a good range of oth­er options avail­able to Eng­land to open.  How­ever, hav­ing made the decision to drop him at the deep end the select­ors should have been will­ing to com­mit to giv­ing him a good run in the pos­i­tion to give him time to find his feet there.  Instead they lost faith and dropped him back down the order send­ing the kind of mixed mes­sages that are so often det­ri­ment­al to a play­ers confidence.

6. Play­er psy­cho­lo­gic­al management

Eng­land are begin­ning to devel­op a his­tory of play­ers who have struggled under the pres­sures of the mod­ern game.  Mar­cus Trescothick was one of the finest open­ing bats­men Eng­land have ever had, lost early to the team due to stress.  Steve Harmis­on “did­n’t travel well”, and Jonath­an Trott has clearly been strug­gling for some time.  I’m also going to include Graeme Swann in this list, as he is the finest spin­ner Eng­land have had in the whole time I’ve been fol­low­ing the game, and his retire­ment is hugely pre­ma­ture.  Some­how all of these play­ers got to a point where they felt some­thing was wrong, either with them or with their game.  The same could even be said for the pre­ma­ture retire­ment of former cap­tain Andrew Strauss.  Whilst not every pos­sible issue can be anti­cip­ated or man­aged to the extent that the play­er can remain part of the team, the num­ber of Eng­land play­ers suf­fer­ing seems high­er than oth­er inter­na­tion­al sides.  I’m not an expert on psy­cho­logy, but it seems to me that unless this is a highly improb­able stat­ist­ic­al spike there is some­thing wrong with the Eng­land setup.  The answer may lie with pro­fes­sion­al psy­cho­lo­gists, it may lie with expert­ise from oth­er inter­na­tion­al sides, or it may lie with former pros, but the ECB should at the very least be try­ing to find out what has gone wrong, and try­ing to learn how to pre­vent sim­il­ar prob­lems devel­op­ing in the future.  Although I am by no means an expert, I do reg­u­larly deal with teen­agers who have lost con­fid­ence in their ‘abil­ity’ or lost their nat­ur­al sense of curi­os­ity, and based on this exper­i­ence, I recom­mend the ECB start by look­ing at the work of Car­ol Dweck.

7. Man­age­ment of tours and matches

This is the one area where Eng­land have done reas­on­ably well in recent years.  Eng­land have led the way in hav­ing dif­fer­ent sides for T20 and 50-over crick­et, and using these sides to devel­op young­sters with a view to them poten­tially pro­gress­ing to full Test crick­et.  There is still much room for improve­ment how­ever.  How we agreed to back-to-back Ashes series is some­thing I will nev­er under­stand — I can entirely under­stand the play­ers on the way to Aus­tralia think­ing “Haven’t we just sweated blood and tears to win this urn?  Why do we have to do it again straight away?”  There is also far too much ‘oth­er’ crick­et being played.  If we have a T20 world cup, Big Bash, IPL, and oth­ers, do we really need some T20 matches on every tour we go on?  The same goes for 50-over crick­et.  I’d love to vis­it Aus­tralia in the Brit­ish winter for 7–8 weeks — but if I was spend­ing half the year abroad without my wife and kids I think I’d soon start to feel tired, miser­able, and neg­at­ive about the game.  Lim­it­ing for­eign tours to an 8 week max­im­um, and play­ing a max­im­um of 2 away test series a year would still provide plenty of crick­et and mean those play­ers who don’t like being away so much will always have suf­fi­cient “light at the end of the tun­nel” to be able to focus on their game.  Fur­ther­more — if we can play 2 away series a year, we can also play 2 home series a year.  It is per­fectly pos­sible to play crick­et in Eng­land from May until Septem­ber — more than enough time for 8 or more Test matches.  Play­ing more home tests a year would be very bene­fi­cial to the counties who have inves­ted in grounds.

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GBGay Ball

we all miss you kp..but on pos­it­ive side this is good oppor­tun­ity for the young play­er of Eng­land crick­et team that they can show their tal­ent and do some­thing like this, that cre­ate history..

JSJon A Scaife

KP appears to have been made a scape­goat, as does Andy Flower. Every­one involved in the Ashes series will be want­ing to ‘make good’ — to show that they can per­form bet­ter than they did in Aus­tralia — and they should be giv­en a chance to do that before selec­tion decisions are made for the next Test series. To loc­ate the cause of the Ashes fail­ure in the actions of par­tic­u­lar indi­vidu­als is clas­sic scape­goat­ism and isn’t a good start to the new ECB régime. If KP or any­one else had been found guilty of ser­i­ous unpro­fes­sion­al beha­viour then sack­ing might be an appro­pri­ate response but this hasn’t been sug­ges­ted. So what are the grounds for his remov­al? Appar­ently the issue is that he is too indi­vidu­al­ist­ic for the cur­rent ‘team eth­ic’. There would, then, have been no room in the cur­rent squad for Boy­cott, Lillee, Gayle or Warne. Botham might not have made it either. They’re using inver­ted logic. A team eth­ic should embrace and nur­ture diverse indi­vidu­al qual­it­ies for the bene­fit of all.