In fact this has been a common battleground between players and administrators over many decades. The reason for these battles has varied over the years but until recently the end result generally saw the administrators triumph. Since the advent of Indian Premier League the odds have swung wildly in favour of the player. At least now when a player loses a battle with his local administration he has the consolation of knowing he can still ply his trade — at a lucrative rate — in the IPL.
Unfortunately, this solution often requires the player to retire from all other forms of the game and stick strictly to a diet of T 20 tournaments. This was the situation Chris Gayle found himself in and cricket is now in danger of losing Pietersen’s considerable talent and drawing power.
It took a rare show of commonsense to find a suitable solution for Gayle to resume playing for the West Indies. Appropriately, it was the former West Indies physiotherapist Dennis Waight who first told me; “The problem with commonsense is, it’s not all that common.”
In Pietersen’s case it may not be so much commonsense but a common cause that sees the player and the ECB work out a solution to their current impasse. If England was to suffer another defeat at Lord’s and lose the No 1 ranking to South Africa this might hasten a compromise.
Can you imagine England allowing Pietersen to walk away from Test cricket when there are two Ashes series looming in the space of 18 months? It has taken England too long to establish a superiority over Australia after nearly two decades in the doldrums and they won’t willingly sacrifice that position over a principle. Hopefully, Pietersen will be prepared to compromise. Pietersen has a history of fallouts with clubs he’s played for, first Natal, then Nottinghamshire and Hampshire. He also has a tendency to speak first and think afterwards. Anyone in his position who publicly utters the words, “It’s not easy being me,” needs a hastily arranged visit to an African refugee camp to regain perspective.
For their part, the English hierarchy is pretty inflexible both on and off the field. In the last couple of years it has served them well and they’ve won plenty of silverware to back their theories. Nevertheless, now they’re one down to South Africa with one to play and the situation calls for a bit of flair, this ploy is about to be fully tested.
The early examples of players and administrators locking horns were generally over money. From “the big six” in Australia, to World Series Cricket and then a series of rebel tours, the players’ main complaint was over the size of the wage packet. Then the cricketers had little choice and the administrators could afford to say; “If you don’t play for us then who are you going to play for?” The former Australian captain Warwick ‘Big Ship’ Armstrong was one of the few early revolutionaries who survived to fight another battle. Armstrong was the only one of the big six who pulled out of the England tour of 1912 in protest and later, resumed playing for Australia.
Not only did Armstrong play again he was also appointed captain but neither of those achievements was his biggest victory. The Victorian administrator and teetotaller Ernie Bean was his chief antagonist. When Armstrong, suffering from a Malaria attack, dropped himself down the batting order and prescribed himself a couple of stiff gins to hasten the recovery process, he had counted on the England bowlers’ resolve to spoil the plan.
They quickly claimed five wickets and Bean was seen rubbing his hands in glee when Armstrong was forced to bat on the Saturday. However, there were reported sightings of Bean slumped in a corner of the bar drunk, when a couple of hours later the unconquered skipper left the field to a standing ovation. Pietersen doesn’t have to drive the administrators to drink. In fact if both sides can reach a compromise it’ll not only be appreciated by cricket fans it might also lead to the administrators finding a sensible solution to what is currently a chaotic international schedule.