Axe falls on Pietersen to sound of England silence

Source: Published in Sports on Thursday, February 6, 2014

LONDON: As cricket followers around the world contemplated the end of Kevin Pietersen's England career two questions kept being asked -- 'why?' and 'why now?'

The 33-year-old's days as an international cricketer came to an end on Tuesday when the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) announced that it had “unanimously” decided to move forward without him.

It was open to the ECB to say that, at the age of 33 and beset by a longstanding knee injury, now was the time to bid farewell to the South Africa-born shotmaker.

Form and fitness have long been regarded as the two key reasons for dropping players yet, in a curiously-worded statement, the ECB opted for neither explanation.

Instead ECB managing director Paul Downton, following England's 5-0 Ashes thrashing in Australia where Pietersen, for all his struggles was still the team's leading run scorer, talked of a need “to rebuild not only the team but also the team ethic and philosophy”.

There then followed a deafening silence from the ECB and the England hierarchy. It was all too much for England great Ian Botham.

“He (Pietersen) is one of the best cricketers this country has ever had - and if his career has been terminated, why not tell us why?,” the former England captain told Sky Sports. “Don't give us the one-liner -- 'we're moving on, we're doing this, we're doing that'. He's 33, not 43,” Botham added.

Instead their statement carried an overtone from the era of 'gentlemen and players' where being a 'good chap' could matter more in England circles than how good a cricketer you were.

But as former England bowler Matthew Hoggard, an Ashes-winner alongside Pietersen in 2005, pointed out, “you don't have to be friends to play cricket together”.

Meanwhile the ECB's refusal to elaborate left a vacuum which social media tried to fill. Pietersen's wife, British pop star Jessica Taylor, took to Twitter to criticise former England bowler Dominic Cork for claiming Pietersen had clashed with captain Alastair Cook during the Australia tour.

“Dominic Cork - there was no 'squaring up' to Alastair Cook or 'off-field antics' in Australia - you are lying, plain & simple,” she wrote.

But the ECB showed no sign Wednesday of being anything like as forthright -- legal risks were cited as one explanation - with regard to Pietersen, whose 13,797 international runs make him England's all-time leading scorer across all formats of the game.

Instead they faced accusations of wanting a quiet life not a winning one, and an inability to handle a “maverick”, in the word used by Pietersen's first England captain, Michael Vaughan. Pietersen's exit is the latest chapter in the damaging fall-out from the Australia tour for England, after head coach Andy Flower resigned, spinner Graeme Swann retired,while batsman Jonathan Trott had to leave the squad with a stress-related illness.

Yet Pietersen's departure remains shrouded in more mystery than any of them, with those outside the England 'bubble' asking what exactly it was that made Cook, once one of his strongest supporters, decide he could do without him?

The ECB's stance has ensured that both the new coach's first press conferences and indeed the next one given by Cook, should he remain England captain, will be dominated by questions about Pietersen.

Indeed the issue could become a running sore should England's top-order collapse at home to Sri Lanka and India later this year -- a situation that could undermine Cook's 'defence' off the field almost as much as Australia's bowlers did on it.