Give credit to individuals

Andrew Strauss has failed to find a solution to the recent problems plaguing the English side.-AP

Cricket is not a team game; it is unique among games and too subtle for that. Instead we must think of it as a competition between two sets of 11 individuals bound together temporarily or more permanently to beat the opposition. By Ted Corbett.

The saddest part of the demise of England and the parting of ways with Kevin Pietersen this summer has been listening to men who should know better than reiterating all the old mutterings about cricket being a team game and, believe it or not, that whatever happens there will be 11 men in England sweaters for every Test.

Cricket is not a team game; it is unique among games and too subtle for that.

Instead we must think of it as a competition between two sets of 11 individuals bound together temporarily or more permanently to beat the opposition.

In certain parts of the game they are dependent on one another, just as rugby players and footballers are; but the glory of cricket, what makes it different from other games, is that it puts the individual in a position to win or lose a match on his own.

The farewell to Pietersen has demonstrated all this and more. It has shown that despite the modern tendency towards management skills, cricket is the same old game.

No longer does the captain control everything as he did, for instance, when Ray Illingworth was England’s skipper 40 years ago.

“There was an incident one time when an umpire felt offended and threatened to go on strike. Who had to sort out this problem? Me. An hour before the match was due to restart when I should have been attending to team matters, I had to go round to the umpires’ room and try to make peace.

“Now it would be down to a manager or at least to the coach. I wish I had had the assistance of a manager with the diplomatic skills to sort that out,” he told me as another, later crisis blew up.

That is why I am so critical of the way the Pietersen affair was handled.

Here is a great, talented and individual batsman with hubris beyond measure and a devotion to the game that makes him the fittest in a fit team.

He is not like the next Joe and he wants to be treated as an individual. He has not been treated as one from the moment the captaincy was taken away from him during a set-to which could have been sorted out by any junior trade union official in a few minutes. Surely there are enough managers around England to perform the same duties.

Instead the traditions, the conservative attitude and the distrust of men of difference that exist in cricket as in few other sports meant that Pietersen was sacked. Not just that. He was replaced by Andrew Strauss, a man with infinite skills as a dressing room captain — but not a captain who reacts instantly to situations that arise on the field — but his feelings got no consideration at all.

How did the managers of the England team expect a brilliant, colourful exhibitionist like Pietersen to react? With a casual shrug of the shoulders? With a wan smile and a joke? If they did they are more insulated from reality than I thought.

The indignity of that sacking must have swirled round inside him ever since. His batting has rarely been the same although his 149 at Leeds was his greatest of all innings; dashing, daring and in his attack on Dale Steyn as thrilling as anything I can remember, comparable with Adam Gilchrist’s shocking Ashes hundred at Perth in 2006-7.

Given his personality it is not surprising Pietersen’s relationship with his team-mates has deteriorated. At the same time he must take responsibility for his actions in recent months which have been well beyond the pale.

If he has sent texts to his pals in the South African dressing room insulting Strauss and hinting at the best ways to get him out — not that their attack, clearly the best in the world, needed those hints — then there is a level of disloyalty that could not be tolerated if he were a minor employee in a small firm in the back of beyond.

(Players in every sport need to understand that texts can be made public. Just because they seem private when you send them does not mean they will be so forever.)

So clearly Pietersen was not a team player when he should have been. He has lost the trust of the England dressing room and deserves what fate has in store for him. How sad! Millions of rupee from the TV riches of the IPL. Millions of dollar from the Big Bash. (Don’t you just love the Australian accent that is needed to say those words!) More millions of dollar if the Americans get wise to the thrills of T20.

What then of England? They have a range of difficult questions to debate. Have they got the right management team or are the defeats by South Africa and Pakistan a warning that their future is not as bright as they dreamed?

Until this summer they thought they had the best attack in the world but Graeme Swann has been analysed and found wanting, Tim Bresnan has had to be dropped, Broad has been wayward and only the compelling, superb James Anderson lived up to his place among the Ian Botham, Bob Willis and Fred Trueman brigade. It is a temporary blip.

Not many teams have the raw talent of the Pakistanis or the team faith of South Africa. In fact although Graeme Smith’s men rely on the team factor no-one ever called Pakistan a team and look what they achieve.

One moment or two of unity and they would conquer the world every year. That would never do.