It’s born of ignorance, but I’m pretty sceptical about the value of professional sports psychologists such as Jeremy Snape, formerly of England and South Africa’s backroom staff, although if he was the inspiration behind Graeme Smith’s lifetime habit-changing declaration on Monday then he deserves immense credit. I still associate him more, though, with his stint for the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) a few years back, not least when being fined for failing to prevent Andrew Flintoff doing his soggiest Ben Ainslie impression during England’s disastrous 2007 World Cup campaign in the Caribbean.
How England fans must desperately be wishing Snape was still alongside Andy Flower now, however, because even the most rudimentary observer of sport and humanity could tell you that geniuses are often vain, egotistical, self-absorbed and disruptive, requiring of attention and above all the need to be cosseted and feel appreciated. When other people make them feel this way, either by offering them cobras or koalas stuffed full of dollars and hero-worshipping them for their on field performances rather than their off field proclivities, they are likely to be skittish and have their heads turned instead of displaying unwavering patriotism. It’s at the very least a bit ironic that the world’s leading immigration service provider, the ECB, should condemn Kevin Pietersen, born in Natal, for acting in such a manner.
Kevin Pietersen: In happier times
Above and beyond the dubious and inconsistent whims of Kevin Pietersen, it is the ECB’s failure to manage those whims and its contractual inflexibility with regard to the changing financial complexities of the game that has left all fans asking how on earth we are potentially no longer going to be able to watch one of the most exotic and destructive batsmen ever play international cricket. It has to be made clear to Pietersen immediately that the requirement for him to play T20s and ODIs both rather than either will be dropped in September when his contract is up for renewal. This is not just for the sake of Pietersen or fans thereof, but for the good of the entire England cricket team moving forwards. The ECB cannot hold back the tide of money and franchises, however distasteful the likes of Jonathan Agnew may find them, and, although Pietersen is a very special case – a phrase some of his team mates clearly often use in the pejorative and we should note he was the only major player absent from Alastair Cook’s wedding earlier this year – his particular requirements are not going to seem quite so unique in years to come.
The ECB is lucky this issue has arisen with Pietersen because it has allowed their own lack of foresight and chronic mismanagement to be obscured by the long shadow of The Ego’s past misdemeanours and present wholly unsurprising desire to pick and choose matches (admittedly a demand I find more understandable and acceptable in the shorter forms than for Tests). In two years, when the same scenario arises with other players likely to be attractive to T20 franchises but with a less problematic reputation, such as James Taylor, it won’t be so easy for Giles Clarke and Company to save face with the odd leak from supposedly confidential meetings with the individuals concerned.
So, for now, just lie back on a couch and think of England, and ask yourself if you really want the ECB to continue hemorrhaging the finest talents in English cricket largely for the sake of preserving the commercial value of ODI series featuring the likes of Steve Smith?
(James Marsh is a TEFL teacher based in the Czech Republic, although his real occupation is alienating those close to him by wallowing on statsguru. He blogs on cricket at Pavilion Opinions and can be found on Twitter at @PavilionOpinion)