Sunday, 26 October 2008

The Ashes 2009 are All That Matters, KP

Stephen Brenkley has written the following article in today's Independent:

Ashes are all that matter, not T20 distraction
Stanford can have its 20 minutes of fame but Pietersen knows clash with the old enemy is No 1 priority

It may come as a surprise to Kevin Pietersen that some things are simply impossible. Neither the word nor the concept is familiar to him. But he was being quite ridiculous when he said last week, looking forward to England's winter: "Playing Australia is hard but I want to steer away from Ashes, Ashes, Ashes. It's very important what's happening in the next couple of months."
He might have tried whistling in the wind to be certain of being heard more clearly. All roads this winter lead to the 2009 Ashes for England. For Pietersen, the new captain, it is both a curse and a blessing.

Whatever England do and wherever they go in the next eight months, they will be scrutinised in the context of next summer's renewal of the oldest cricketing rivalry. In microcosm, that will apply to Pietersen more than anybody else.

The exception to this may, just, be the events of the next few days and in particular the match taking place in Antigua next Saturday: Stanford Superstars v England, worth $1m (£609,190) to each member of the winning team and $20m in all – the so-called Twenty20 for Twenty. This match has no relevance to the Ashes or anything else. It is a one-off and Pietersen, while doing his employers' bidding, is clearly discomfited by it and what surrounds it.

He made a spirited defence of Test cricket to a gathering of reporters, all of whom were weaned on Test cricket and consider it to be akin to mother's milk, and it was clear from everything he said that the matches which will truly exercise him in the next year are all played over five days: two against India, four against West Indies, two against whomever can be persuaded to play England next May and then the little matter of the quintet against Australia.

But Pietersen is painfully aware that the landscape is changing, and was unruffled by the suggestion that its time may be up. "From my point of view, Test cricket is the big stuff," he said. "I know that my kids or even 10-year-olds right now might just be thinking that they just want to play Twenty20. It is worrying, but that might be the future. Look at televisions, they are high definition now, not black and white with fuzzy screens. That's just the natural progression."

But Twenty20 has changed the way players operate. For instance, as Pietersen pointed out, England will play a Middlesex side tomorrow containing the Warwickshire all-rounder Neil Carter, who is on loan for the county's T20 assignments this winter. "Since the Indian Premier League came in, people are franchising themselves, like Carter, playing against us, which is a disgrace really."

Despite his passion and his nous, it had not seemed to occur to Pietersen that Tests might also be in trouble because nobody is watching them. "The fortunate thing for England is that we play in front of capacity crowds all the time. You want to challenge yourself and part of that is playing to full houses, and we do that here. Hopefully in the Ashes next year we can captivate a huge audience. Of the 40-odd Tests, I don't think I've played in any as close as the five against Australia in 2005.

"The tickets have sold for it quicker than for a Robbie Williams concert. The Ashes is something special, I really don't think we'll have to worry here. I haven't spoken to many people about Test crowds elsewhere but I will after this."

See how hard it was to avoid talking about the Ashes. He might understand the folly of doing so because there are indeed more imminent contests, but he could not help himself when asked. Pietersen is still in his honeymoon period as the official England captain, a period extended by his remarkable start in the job – played five, won five.

This might also apply to his relations with his bosses at the England and Wales Cricket Board. As long as Pietersen keeps winning he can more or less call the shots, even if they are as outrageous as the ones he plays.

The IPL clearly still appeals, and it seems that negotiations are advanced for him to play there next year. Theoretically, this could mean him missing two Test matches which are not yet set in stone but which the ECB seem determined to play. But Pietersen was not being completely disingenuous by pointing out that England players needed T20 experience before next year's T20 World Championship.

It is, as usual, some winter ahead for England and some summer after that. The sooner the Antiguan distraction is done the better for all concerned. And then, as Pietersen must know deep down, all the signs thereafter – whether they be from Ahmedabad in December, or Port of Spain in March – point only one way.

My View

I know that there is a huge buzz around the Stanford game; but it will be over in the blinking of an eye. I truly hope that England will go into that game against the Stanford Superstars and clean up (this is mainly due to the fact that I hope England wins every match they play in), it would be a great windfall for all of the players and their family's, it will also continue to build confidence!

The winter tour of India is going to be an enormous test for all of the England players; it is a very tough place to go and win (as Australia are proving at present). The players state of mind and the team we go into the Ashes series with will very much be decided during the winter tour of India. Confidence is key; for me that was the integral role Kevin Pietersen played during the 2005 Ashes series. The team was laying down and losing to the Australians as usual during the first test at Lords, until KP came out and played two confident knocks taking the game to Australia. After that innings the whole of the England teams attitude notably changed; it was the start of what was to unravel in the next four test matches!!