Apr 202014
 

If two-week-old Elsie, Cook’s first child, has helped put a torrid winter down under into perspective the appointment of Peter Moores as England’s new coach is intended to make the next Ashes series a less gruelling experience.

Cook is as captivated by fatherhood as any new parent. “Being a dad is best thing you can do, it’s very exciting. Parenthood changes things a lot. The word perspective is used and I think over time that word will get used more and more as Elsie grows and you watch her develop. You look at her and think of the life she will have in front of her, you just don’t know, so you end up thinking more about her than yourself.”

But, as he says, “I also have a job to do, which is one I’m very proud of, and we have an opportunity now to try and start again and rebuild.”

So between occasional nappy-changing he has been working on his batting – for a skipper who has always led by example the winter’s sub-25 average was damaging –  and his captaincy.

Specifically he has been discussing leadership with Andy Flower, Moores’ predecessor, who is now technical director of elite cricket, and Steve Bull, the sports psychologist who has long worked with the England team. This week he will extend this circle of advisors to Moores beginning with dinner one evening during Essex’s match with Surrey at The Oval.

If Moores has ‘history’ of the wrong sort with Kevin Pietersen his previous experiences with Cook have generally been positive.

“When I heard it was Mooresy I was really excited by it,” said Cook. “I’ve got on really well with Peter, not only the time when he was England coach [from 2007-09] but we did quite a lot of work at the Academy together before that, so I’ve known Mooresy since about 2005. I think he’s a really good coach, a brilliant coach in fact, and a really good person.”

It was while touring the West Indies under Moores with the England Lions that Cook’s Test career started, Moores recommending him to Duncan Fletcher when England suddenly needed an opener in India. Cook flew from Antigua to Nagpur, made a century on debut, and has barely missed a Test match since.

Moores’ accession to the senior team was not as successful with several senior players saying he was too much ‘in your face’, but Cook said he had no such issues with him “maybe because I was a younger player in the side”. Cook added: “A lot of those senior players had grown up with Duncan Fletcher as their England coach and their [coaching] styles at that time were very, very different.

“I think, as he’s said, he would have improved as a coach over the five years he’s been with Lancashire and I don’t think it’s any coincidence he’s the only guy to win the Championship with two different sides. That’s the measure of his success as a coach and building a side up from scratch, which is kind of where we are now with the new era.”

While Cook was not part of the selection panel that appointed Moores he was, he says, “consulted throughout the process” by Paul Downton, the managing director, England cricket, who led the search. “I’m sure we pretty much sing off the same hymn sheet, otherwise I don’t think he would have been appointed,” said Cook.

At his unveiling Moores stressed a desire to play attractive cricket. Cook has been criticised as a defensive-minded captain but indicated he had fresh ideas that, now Moores had been appointed, he could begin to put into practice.

“We have been in limbo the last couple of months. I came back from Australia, devastated with what had happened, and you start to think about how to turn things around. You have a lot of ideas, talk to a lot of people, but can’t actually follow through until the head coach came in. I can now pick up the phone and talk cricket [to Moores].

“I certainly think I inherited a side from Straussy [Andrew Strauss] and Flower, and now it does seem a bit of a clean break.

“As Peter said, we want to make people proud of the way we go about our business. It is results-driven, we know that, but [we can look at] the way we communicate with the public. The England rugby team has evolved particularly well and it would be wrong not to look at the way they’ve done that. That kind of stuff, the Englishness, the legacy you want to leave behind of the culture we want to create.”

Cook has begun the season well personally, making 181 for Essex against Derbyshire last week. “I’ve had time to work on my game technically which you don’t normally get and have really enjoyed it. The proof is in the pudding – I’ve scored some runs.”

If Cook can return to doing the same for England he and Moores will already be well on the way to erasing the winter’s bitter memories.

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Apr 192014
 
Peter Moores appointed: Andy Flower behind bold move back to the future

Flower was in temporary charge of the team after Peter Moores had been sacked. He was still to decide whether he wanted the job permanently, the team were in turmoil, and Flower made perfectly plain his high regard for the man who was no longer there.

“Peter’s a wonderful coach,” he said when we bumped into each other outside the hotel lobby. “He will definitely come back to international coaching one day.”

Whether Flower had it mind that Moores would reclaim the England job is doubtful, but the pertinence of his opinion has become starkly clear with Moores’ appointment.

Flower resigned as team director in January to become director of elite coaching when he decided that the experiment of splitting the job between Test and limited-overs coaches was not viable, and that he could no longer do justice to the combined role. There is no doubt that Flower will have promoted Moores’ cause in the corridors of ECB power these past few weeks.

This is a bold, deceptively imaginative and slightly dangerous move, in effect going back to the future. Moores has impeccable credentials as a county coach, having taken both Sussex, before his first stint with England, and Lancashire, after it, to the County Championship title.

But it was not only Pietersen who doubted his style during his tenure from 2007-09. Other senior players found it difficult to relate to him. Moores’ insistence yesterday that he had evolved as a coach in the past five years will soon be seriously scrutinised. He will be expected to lead the team to victory in Test series at home this summer to Sri Lanka and India, then to mount a genuine challenge for the World Cup next year.

If not, the whole appointment will unravel all too rapidly, before the home Ashes series in 2015. But this is a test not only of Moores as a coach at the highest level but also of Alastair Cook as captain. The pair, coach and captain, flanked an impressive Paul Downton, the managing director of England cricket, at the Lord’s press conference yesterday.

It was perhaps Moores’ day, but the overwhelming impression during and after the announcement is that it is now Cook’s team.

Apr 192014
 
Peter Moores announced as Andy Flower's replacement in England coaching role following Kevin Pietersen saga

“The sooner we understand Kevin has had his time the better,” said the managing director, England cricket. “I don’t see any intention of going back.” While Downton said there were no ‘specific issues, no smoking gun’, he stated had never seen a cricketer as ‘disengaged’ from his team as Pietersen was in the Sydney Test, the last in England’s 5-0 Ashes defeat and the last Test of Pietersen’s 104 as an England player.

England are keen to ‘move on’ from Pietersen but he was always going to dominate a Lord’s press conference whose prime purpose was to unveil Peter Moores as the team’s new head coach. That is because Moores is not a ‘new’ appointment, rather a re-heated one, having been in the post between 2007-2009 only to be sacked at the behest of Pietersen, an intervention that cost the latter the captaincy.

Moores was at pains to stress yesterday he held no grudge against Pietersen citing “one of my strengths is that I move on quickly” and insisting “I never fell out with Kevin, Kevin fell out with me, there is a notable difference.” However, his return to England made sure there would not be a difficult stand-off for Downton with a coach who wanted England’s highest ever accumulator of runs back in the side.

 

Not that this would have been negotiable as far as Downton was concerned. He explained: “I arrived in Sydney on 31 December and it was clear from meeting [then-coach] Andy Flower there were two major issues [Flower’s future] and ‘what are we going to do about Kevin?’

“We had a senior player who had got disconnected with the team. I watched every ball of that Test and I have never seen anybody so disengaged from what was going on. What you need from a senior player is backing, support and everybody working together. We got to a stage where that was no longer the case,

Peter Moores was criticised for failing to handle top players when he last led the England teamPeter Moores was criticised for failing to handle top players when he last led the England team “I spent two to three weeks speaking to several senior players, all the coaches on that trip, James Whitaker (chairman of selectors) and Cookie [captain Alastair Cook]. We came to a unanimous conclusion if England are going to rebuild we had to make a decision not for three months, but for five years. For the side to grow we had to invest in new players, build a new team with some core values. We decided that wouldn’t happen with Kevin in the side, so we decided not to select him going forward

“I don’t see any intention of going back.”

“The sooner we understand Kevin has had his time the better, that we are moving on without Kevin. We talked through it over a number of hours with Kevin and his advisers; he is the one who, in the end, wanted to terminate his contract and we agreed with that. He is free to play wherever he wants around the world, the sooner we can focus on young players coming through, what the England team will do, the more everyone will enjoy it.”

Intriguingly Downton then went on to intimate he believes the current leadership set-up of Cook and Moores is not strong enough to manage a personalty as big, and ‘difficult’, as Pietersen. He said: “There is no smoking gun, no specific issues. This is ten years of Kevin scoring very well for England but getting to a point where the balance shifted. When we had a strong side with strong leadership, with an established captain and coaches, it could accommodate Kevin. That balance has shifted now with a new side, new players and coaches. That side cannot accommodate Kevin.”

Pietersen tweeted, when Moores’ appointment was revealed, ‘Everyone deserves a second chance’. When this was mentioned Moores said ‘a good tweet’ and he, Downton and Cook all laughed. Pietersen, however, has already had his second chance, having first been axed after the text-gate affair. A third looks to be out of the question.

Apr 162014
 
County Championship round-up: Test opener-in-waiting Sam Robson his England prospects no harm at Lord's

Sam Robson, a Test opener-in-waiting in many eyes, was in the unique position of having the in-situ England coach and four potential replacements on site as the interview process for Andy Flower’s successor went on at Lord’s while Middlesex completed …

Apr 112014
 
Kevin Pietersen still hopeful of returning to England fold

The former England batsman revealed his aspirations while in Delhi preparing to take part in the Indian Premier League, where he will captain Delhi Daredevils.

He was sacked by the England and Wales Cricket Board in February as the hierarchy decided to rebuild the team in the wake of the Ashes whitewash in Australia last winter and the resignation of Andy Flower as coach.

It seemed that the England set-up had effectively closed the door on any return. While no reasons have yet been given for their surprising decision, it was understood that he was viewed as a disruptive influence in the dressing-room and had fallen out with Flower.

However, in an interview with ESPNcricinfo, the 33-year-old Pietersen said: “I thought my time was up when things happened in January but I’ve loved playing cricket and I’m still hopeful of playing again for England one day.

He added: “I’m going to do everything I can to play to the best of my ability for the teams I play for and enjoy cricket. I want to continue playing a lot of cricket because I love the game and I want to give dressing rooms around the world the knowledge I’ve acquired. You never stop learning, no matter how many games  you’ve played.”

He had earlier in the week appeared contrite about the disturbance he caused by sending derogatory text messages to opponents South Africa about his then captain Andrew Strauss during the 2012 Test series.

In the process he defended his position in the dressing room, and has also said he was the first to recognise that fellow batsman Jonathan Trott was struggling with psychological problems.

Now he has expounded on his leadership credentials as he looked forward to a lucrative Twenty20 campaign in India, one of three such ventures he has signed up for as an effective “gun for hire” while his international ambitions have been thwarted.

“My mindset has changed a hell of a lot,” he said. “When I was made captain of England in 2008 there were lots of things I hadn’t been through.Only when you reach certain highs and lows do you start to understand everyone and everything.”

The combustible Pietersen was sacked as captain in January 2009 after airing his grievances with the then England coach Peter Moores, who also resigned from his post.

“Understanding people, managing people and getting to grips with how everyone is feeling over the six to eight-week period of the IPL is vitally important. You have to make sure everyone is happy and fighting for one result.”

Whether the current captain, Alastair Cook, and whoever is chosen to replace Flower agree with Pietersen’s team-building ideas remains open to question. But if Cook cannot hang on to his position, it seems there is one man only too eager to put forward his name for the top job.

Feb 212014
 
Kevin Pietersen decision was not personal, claims Stuart Broad

The post-Pietersen era began in earnest yesterday as Broad faced the media before flying to the Caribbean for the three-week tour that will act as a warm-up for next month’s World Twenty20 in Bangladesh. The England and Wales Cricket Board’s treatment of the South Africa-born batsman was unsurprisingly high on the agenda but rather than Test captain Alastair Cook facing the music, England’s Twenty20 skipper stepped into the breach.

It was a thankless task but with a reference to “improving atmospheres” around the squad following the disastrous Ashes tour, Broad followed the party line immaculately.

“I was aware of discussions towards the end of the Australia tour but I was not deeply involved particularly,” he said. “It was a decision made by guys that have the English cricket team at their heart, and they want the team to improve.

“There are no egos involved in making huge decisions like this. It’s about improving results on the field and improving atmospheres off it.”

Broad added: “I have fond memories of KP from 2010 when he was the kingpin in helping us win that [Twenty20] World cup. But it’s time for the guys in that changing room to realise they can be match-winners and can step up now.”

The tour – which will comprise three one-day internationals and three Twenty20 matches – will also act as an audition for limited overs coach Ashley Giles’ ambitions of succeeding Andy Flower in the full-time role. Former batsman and Durham captain Paul Collingwood has also been drafted in to add his experience to the group,

Broad was one of the few England players to return from Australia with his reputation undiminished and he was understandably keen to draw a line beneath the events of the torrid last three months.  

“When you’ve lost so many games, it hurts, so we’ve just got to get back to winning,” he said. “Twenty20 is about match-winners and taking the game by the scruff of the neck, so that’s the challenge for this young group now.

“There’s no doubt the players let Andy Flower down this winter, the coach can only do so much. We let the coaches down this winter and it’s up to the players to respond and perform on the field.”

* James Taylor hit an unbeaten double century for England Lions against Sri Lanka to press his claims for a senior call-up. The Nottinghamshire batsman – who played two Tests against South Africa in 2012 – ended on 242 not out in Dambulla, while fellow Test hopeful Sam Robson scored 142 in England’s 605 for 7 declared.

Feb 062014
 
The art of being a team player, Pietersen-style

In our experience, the employees most likely to be considered ‘team players’ are the obedient, unquestioning ones. Management may make great show of inviting feedback – and they may honestly believe that they’re open to it – but the truth is that no-one makes a decision thinking it is the wrong one.

Most of us, when our thinking is questioned, are liable to grow defensive. We’re also likely to somewhat take against the person who is challenging us. A manager might think: “Why are you trying to undermine me? Why can’t you be more of a team player, like Alan or Deano?”

This sort of situation is compounded when the questioner reads social situations badly and when the person being criticised is feeling vulnerable anyway. We wonder to what extent this might be what happened with Kevin Pietersen, Alastair Cook and Andy Flower in Australia.

Motives and execution

The Telegraph is reporting a Pietersen ‘rant’ about Andy Flower during a players’ meeting. You can easily imagine that he might have gone about things the wrong way, but was what he was saying really so radically different to what the rest of the players were feeling?

Cook and Prior called the meeting because they felt they were relying too heavily on Flower. It seems Pietersen was of a similar mind, but felt that this was Flower’s fault. This is a distinction, but his motives for speaking up were the same: the team weren’t playing well and he had identified a lack of self-reliance among the players.

At heart, he still wanted the team to improve, but expressed himself badly with the effect perhaps magnified by his frustration at being marginalised.

Threat to sense of self

Andy Flower is a strong man. Few would question that. Could a man who took a stand against Robert Mugabe ever feel threatened by someone like Kevin Pietersen?

Well, perhaps. Taking a stand against a dictator takes courage, but if anything it is an act which adds to your sense of self. You can take pride in what you’ve done. It is not easier to do than accepting you were wrong about something – but it is a different thing. Accepting you were wrong means acknowledging your own fallibility and who can readily take pride in that? Flower might well not be that kind of person.

It’s the flipside of having conviction. When things are going badly, conviction might manifest itself as greater certainty that you are right and a belief that what is going wrong is that people aren’t doing exactly what you want them to do. All your repressed insecurities and self-doubt might therefore become focused on those who question you the most (and in the clumsiest manner).

A strong, confident, self-assured leader of men

Alastair Cook was perhaps in a similar position. He will certainly have been having doubts about his ability to lead the team – he’s said as much himself. That’s not a strong base from which to withstand questions about the way you’re going about things. It’s easy to say that valid points should be taken on board by those in authority, but insecurity can affect us all – particularly when the defeats are piling up.

Further reading

We’ve done another Pietersen piece for Cricinfo. You’re probably a bit weary of it all by now, but if you’re not, it’s about the ECB information vacuum and the concept of ‘rebuilding’.

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