Change of guard in turbulent times

Alastair Cook with coach Andy Flower, Kevin Pietersen and Steve Finn. Bringing KP back into the team can only be good for England.-S. SUBRAMANIUM

Now that Andrew Strauss has resigned, the on-off talks with Kevin Pietersen have no relevance but Alastair Cook, Strauss’ successor, claims he will hold talks behind closed doors, writes Ted Corbett.

Make no mistake about it; England will miss Andrew Strauss. He is an honest, straight forward, decent man and one of the best of their captains.

It is not just that he won 24 of his 50 Tests, recovered the Ashes at home and kept them on the next trip to Australia and guided the side — all right, briefly — to the top of the world rankings; for all his naive errors on the field he welded together a team who believed in him.

Yes, I know the Kevin Pietersen story shows that one player had his own version of the team ethic but we all know that many of Strauss’ triumphs were based on hurricane knocks by the great KP and that Strauss would be the first to admit it.

Most of all England will miss Strauss’ 21 centuries, his 7,037 runs at 40.91, his 27 fifties and his record 121 catches in Tests; 4,205 runs in ODIs with six centuries and 27 fifties; but not his 73 runs in four T20 games.

England’s future will depend on whether Pietersen can be persuaded to return to the fold and to pay more than lip service to considering team-mates as well as himself. He could be a vital cog in the England wheel and, as his success in the IPL shows, he can bat on Indian pitches, in the heat and against any delivery propelled down the pitch by a human hand. Those benefits will be vital on the England tour of India this autumn.

Strauss says that the Pietersen problem did not bring about his retirement but the day before Strauss quit all forms of cricket, Pietersen made a high-speed 160 for Surrey off Somerset that rubbed in the lesson that he is one of the greatest batsmen ever to pull an England sweater over his head. Losing Strauss’ runs means England will need KP more than ever.

Every England fan — and there will be plenty in India under the banner of the Barmy Army — wants Pietersen back. I am not sure about the England management. Perhaps they expect too much. Perhaps they think that a man with a touch of genius like KP should also be an orthodox citizen.

As one who spent much of his early life dealing with George Best I can tell you that is a most unlikely scenario but I remember what Elizabeth Taylor, a wayward star in her own right, said about Best. “In show business and in the movies we would not have had any trouble with George. A lot of stars go off the rails as George has done and we expect to deal with that.”

I sometimes wish she had demonstrated just how show biz would have dealt with Best but men like him and Pietersen are special cases and need to be treated as special.

It is not yet clear, in the midst of all the posturing by both sides and the use of public relations gimmicks by those who damned them most, whether Strauss wanted KP back in the team. Now that he has resigned the on-off talks with Pietersen have no relevance but Alastair Cook, Strauss’ successor claims he will hold talks behind closed doors.

Strauss said how friendly he and Pietersen had been so often and how badly he felt let down that I suspected he wanted him batting at No. 4, snatching those incredible catches and bowling those flighty off-breaks. Whatever the Strauss wishes we are now left with Cook to sort out the problem but it seems that the latter is determined to bring back KP and that can only be good for England.

All I will say to that is that secrecy does not depend on Cook but that Pietersen’s People, who have all the cricket correspondents’ numbers on their cell phones, certainly know the value of a whisper in the ears of the wise.

Cook is a better on-field captain than Strauss and much will depend on whether he is one of those batsmen whose figures improve when they become captain or deteriorate. If he can forget his other duties while he is batting and produce his present volume of runs, England will make big totals. He already has 6,555 runs at 47.

If not, much of the burden will fall on the shoulders of whoever succeeds Strauss as Cook’s opening partner: Ian Bell, his one-day partner; young and dashing Joe Root of Yorkshire; Somerset’s Nick Compton, high scoring grandson of the immortal Denis; or Jonathan Trott, the dour, methodical England No. 3 whose set-in-concrete routine as he takes guard is enough to bring on an epidemic of yawning.

Cook inherits a strong team, for all their comprehensive defeat by South Africa but they have a tough start in India this autumn where they will be up against men used to winning with young batsmen ready to fill the places left vacant by Rahul Dravid and V. V. S. Laxman. Cook has served an apprenticeship as captain of the England one-day side and will presumably have in the pavilion two men who have like him been brought up in the Essex tradition. The coach will continue to be Andy Flower and the batting coach Graham Gooch; both Test captains once, but not men who smile often and whose way with failure can be explicit and terse. Still, it will be their duty to steer Cook through the first matches of his new life as well as helping him add to his Test runs.

What we are sure to face as a result of those few dramatic days after the third Test defeat is the phrase that will follow Cook round Australia in 2013-14.

It was a certain Captain Cook, the great explorer, who made Britain aware of Australia’s potential and who is often regarded as a hero Down Under.

Unless I am very much mistaken the headline “Captain Cook sailing into trouble” is already in type in the print room of every Australia tabloid and ready to make its appearance the first time Cook shows a sign of weakness.