Kevin Pietersen’s relationship (above) with coach Andy Flower has soured in recent times © Getty Images
By Karthik Parimal
Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People was first published in the October of 1936. In his book, he notes that a thorough research brought to fore the fact that the topic of health was of prime interest to adults. Not surprisingly, next in the list was ‘people’. How to understand and get along with people? How to make people like you; and how to win others to your way of thinking? At the time, the committee conducting the research, for the purpose of holding a course on the topic, relentlessly searched for a textbook on the subject. They found none.
Almost eight decades thereafter, bookstores across the world can safely vouch that its shelves regularly make space for paperbacks and hardcovers pertaining to the genre of man-management. Innumerable books — some splendid, some wimpy — highlight techniques that persuade employees to dish out their best performance on a consistent basis, and for the employers to extract maximum from their staff — all the while, emphasising the fact that no two people are ever alike — can readily be found. Despite abundance of material and practical examples available at every nook and corner, this truth isn’t always grasped by the powers that be. At times, the biggest of organisations slip into a quagmire by overlooking the simple point that no two members are cut from the same piece of cloth.
Pietersen sports an ego as big as his repertoire of strokes, but seldom has it been detrimental on the field. And as long as he’s winning matches for England and refraining from bringing the game into disrepute, his personality — irksome or pleasant — is inconsequential
If one went scouting for instances of poor man-management, almost every team sport is certain to unveil a plethora of them. Sport requires, more than any other profession, for people with diverse traits to perform as one, this under intense, incessant scrutiny from predecessors, media and viewers alike. While good calls, on and off the field, are deservedly acknowledged, goof-ups are inexplicably magnified. There is no dearth of the latter in cricket, and during recent times, it’s the English team that has contributed to such headlines with predicaments on both sides of the arena.
Kevin Pietersen has been one of the most contentious subjects in England’s cricketing circles, prior to and post the process of reintegration. On the other hand, Andy Flower has been a semblance of calm as coach, and the Zimbabwean, at times, has appeared more English than most in his entourage. With assistance from then captain Andrew Strauss, he scrupulously assembled a team of match-winners, eliciting the best from the troop at his disposal while, importantly, circumventing their touchy side. The programme rolled along smoothly as long as draws and wins were eked out, but under severe pressure, it splintered.
Pietersen has always been a dazzler with a willow in his hand; Flower’s tactical acumen was impeccable until this juncture. The former loves to hog spotlight, the latter is a director. Pietersen sports an ego as big as his repertoire of strokes, but seldom has it been detrimental on the field. And as long as he’s winning matches for England and refraining from bringing the game into disrepute, his personality — irksome or pleasant — is inconsequential. Off it, his massive ego is bound to rub people the wrong way, but isn’t it commonplace in every team sport? Flower, of all people, must be aware of that.
“I found guys such as Pietersen the easiest to manage because they are very straightforward. You only have to say a couple of nice things to them and they love you,” says Pietersen’s former captain Michael Vaughan. Perhaps the solution is as uncomplicated as that, but is England’s think-tank prepared to give it a thought? History suggests otherwise. Their best players in the recent past have all been subjects of controversies — Ian Botham and Andrew Flintoff serve as fine examples. They were mercilessly pursued, by media and administrators alike, for the brief moment they refused to toe the line, despite their on-field performances consistently speaking volumes of their value to the side. They were axed, brought back when the ship hit rough waters, floated loosely in the line-up and were made to realise they weren’t all-powerful. The fact that it was characters such as these who put bums on seats was conveniently forgotten; at other times, conveniently remembered.
Most teams in the international circuit feature a Pietersen-like player. A few years ago, the indomitable Australian team hosted quite a few of them. The mild hostility between Shane Warne and Steve Waugh is well-chronicled. Apparently, Warne wasn’t a believer of then Australian coach John Buchanan’s methods, too, and there is little chance of Pietersen’s ego outweighing Warne’s. Nevertheless, the champion leg-spinner was made to feel as a core member of the unit more often than not. He was rightly rebuked for punishable offences, but not once was he shown the door owing to ego related issues. Matters that needed bypassing were duly bypassed.
Pietersen is by no means a self-effacing bloke, but why should it be a cause for concern as long as he performs what he’s roped in for? Wouldn’t it augur well if those around him realise and appreciate the fact that he deserves to be handled with a different strip? Surely, dropping one of your best players after a morbid tour is tomfoolery. Flower has denied having given the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) a Pietersen-or-me ultimatum, but neither did he speak in favour of the batsman during the press-conferences post the drubbing. The two have seldom been on good terms. Moreover, the cliché ‘there’s no smoke without fire’ holds water in this case.
In the same book, Carnegie writes that a feeling of importance is one of the deepest principles of human nature. He further states that there is only one way to get anybody to do anything: make the other person want to do it. If all Pietersen wants is a little attention, which eventually helps him deliver his best, Flower shouldn’t mind that. Also, as team director he must know that not including one of his finest batsmen in future plans could prove to be lethal. However, if it’s left to the ECB officials to pick one, the sensible answer is quite straightforward.
(Karthik Parimal, a Correspondent with CricketCountry, is a cricket aficionado and a worshipper of the game. He idolises Steve Waugh and can give up anything, absolutely anything, just to watch a Kumar Sangakkara cover drive. He can be followed on Twitter at https://twitter.com/karthik_parimal)