England have taken a bold, if predictable, step and appointed Kevin Pietersen as captain of both the Test and ODI teams. But have they named the right man?
While Michael Vaughn’s resignation was for seen, once a press conference had been called, amidst his teams and his personal poor form, it did come as a surprise that Paul Collingwood also stepped down as England ODI captain. That move cries of both Vaughn and Collingwood, or at least just Collingwood, being pushed rather than stepping down, as England look to take the team forward with one captain for all forms of the game, a sort of in house cleaning, that can be seen as both innovative and desperate.
When Vaughn left the field during the Test series it was Andrew Strauss who was left in charge of the team, calling the shots. Paul Collingwood’s ODI captaincy didn’t seem under threat. Alistair Cook has often been talked of as the future captain of the team. Yet none of these players is guaranteed to be in both the Test and ODI teams. So it was Pietersen who England turned to.
The South African born, and raised, batsman seems to have an almost star aligned career path with his country of birth. While he made his ODI debut against Zimbabwe, it was a warm up for the series against South Africa. Pietersen scored a century in his first match against South Africa, and followed that up with two more in the series, and was named player of the series, even though South Africa won the series easily. This Test series was his first against South Africa, and he began that with a century as well. He will captain England for the first time in a Test match on Thursday, against South Africa.
Along with Andre Flintoff, Pietersen is England’s best player. In the past the decision to make their best player captain hasn’t always been successful, with Botham and Flintoff the best examples of not being able to combine the roles well. It has been said also that Pietersen may not be as liked within the dressing room, by players and staff, as is put out to us, with his ego maybe bigger than most find comfortable. If this is the case then he will have to work on that, as a captain needs the full backing and confidence of those he commands, but a certain element of this may be to his advantage. A captain should not be too chummy with those he leads, as that tends to make difficult decisions harder to push forward.
The main argument against Pietersen captaining England is the way he plays the game. He has been accused of playing for himself rather than the team. He scored a great hundred in the opening Test of this series, a match that ended in a draw, but fingers were pointed at him in the next two Tests, both lost by England. In the second Test, when England needed to bat out the Test to claim a draw, as South Africa had done in the first Test, Pietersen hit his first two balls for four and was out flashing at his fourth ball. An innings of time and attrition was called for and the “Ego” showed a distinct lack of character. In the third Test Pietersen and Collingwood has pulled England back from a losing position to the verge of a winning one, but when on 94, and needing to carry on to take England to that winning position, he tried to bring up his ton with a six and hold out to de Villiers off Harris. England lost the match. At the time Alec Steward, on radio commentary, didn’t try to hide his feelings through diplomacy, branding Pietersen a mindless idiot. Stewart for saw Pietersen’s downfall much earlier than it eventually came, not letting himself be carried away when the reverse sweep was brought out, when England needed no risk, high percentage cricket.
No doubt the English board is hoping that the captaincy will bring out a more responsible Pietersen, who will no start playing for the team, and not himself. However if this were to happen would England be losing their best weapon? An aggressive Pietersen is what allows England to compete with the best and although he doesn’t always come off, he does give England a chance when he does. Changing his way may not be the best way forward for England.
There was a moment in the last Test, when Smith and de Villiers were batting South Africa back into the game, and an England wicket was needed. Monty was bowling to a comfortable looking de Villiers when the camera caught Vaughn, mouth shielded from the batsman, telling Monty something. The very next ball de Villiers was out. Vaughn’s own batting form has not been good, but there is little doubt that he is England’s best captain and one of the best captains in the world. The decision by England is a bit reactionary and shows that they believe the team to be better then they actually are. South Africa is a settled, balanced, and formidable team. The plans for this series and the year ending series against Australia have been laid for over a year now. What England has failed to realize is that they have been beaten by a better team. This isn’t the same South African team that England beat in South Africa a few years ago. That was a changing team, much as this England team is.
Pietersen may prove to be the right choice and the selectors will be vindicated, but I still feel that they have acted too quickly – Vaughn would still be my choice to lead England. He just needs to get his batting form back.