Andrew Strauss: England will be on friction alert over Kevin Pietersen row

Andrew Strauss knows more than most about how conflict can disrupt a dressing room.

His England captaincy came to an end while he was largely estranged from the team's star batsman. The need to talk about Kevin, though, has not yet dissipated.

Kevin Pietersen, fit again, will pull on an England sweater for the first time since the second Test in Wellington three months ago in Thursday's Twenty20 international against New Zealand. His reintegration into the England set-up since his axing in the aftermath of the text row during the series against South Africa last summer appears to have gone smoothly, but with team spirit never more at risk of cracking than under the intense pressure of an Ashes series, Strauss feels he should be part of the squad only if the disquiet is minimal.

"He's one of the best players I've ever seen," Strauss said. "But I don't know what's going on behind the scenes and I just hope everything in the team environment is fine. If it is fine then he should come back in straight away, no problems.

"But I do think you should never just assume that everything is OK, because in my experience if the team environment is not right it will come out at some point, usually under the greatest pressure.

"I'm sure everything's fine, I've got no reason to doubt it is, but it's still a consideration people have got to make."

Last summer's schism in the England ranks, sparked by Pietersen texting members of the South Africa team with remarks about his successor as captain, appears to have largely healed, with Pietersen apologising and returning to the Test side for the tours to India and New Zealand. All seems calm on the surface then, although Strauss feels that should problems return, the wider world would be the last to know.

"It would probably be quite obvious in the dressing room before it becomes obvious to anyone out in the middle," he said. "In the middle is probably the last time you'd see it because people on the pitch tend to stick together as much as they possibly can.

"But the signs would be that there's friction in the dressing room, that people aren't relaxed so they can't say what they think, there's tension between individuals, that something feels wrong about the dynamic of the team.

"Sometimes it's hard to put a finger on, it's a little more difficult, though Andy Flower in particular will be looking out for a sign that things just don't feel quite right at the moment or that there's an obvious incident that happens or something of that nature. There's no reason to suspect that to happen but that's what he'll be looking out for."

Strauss is confident that the incident last year will have provided valuable lessons for all involved. If the first rumblings of discontent are detected he expects Flower to act quickly and decisively.

"He'd have probably learned to tackle these things a little earlier and not allow things to develop and drift along," said Strauss of what Flower may have gained from the experience of 2012. "Maybe if things had been done a little bit earlier in the piece with regards to Kevin we might not have got to the situation we found ourselves in at the end of last summer. But then, at the same time, maybe Kevin himself's learned some important lessons about how to go about things and how to deal with frustrations or problems he has with the ECB or other players in the team."

Boundaries are not often a problem for Pietersen out in the middle, and on Wednesday as he completed a 20-minute individual net at the Oval, he hit one of the bowlers out of the stadium. Strauss though feels the boundary surrounding the pitch is not the only one that will have to be of interest to the England camp. "A cricket team is always made up of 11 different individuals and you want to give them enough flexibility to be themselves," said Strauss. "You don't want to stifle people too much. And Kevin's no exception in that regard, you want to give him freedom to express himself both in the middle and in the dressing room.

"When you're managing a team the key is, I guess, to find where those boundaries are, where you're prepared to let people go, to what extent you're allowing them to be a free spirit because ultimately it's all got to be in the greater cause which is making sure the team wins cricket games. That's a challenge for any leadership team and Andy Flower has been there long enough, [the captain] Alastair Cook knows his mind pretty well and I'm sure they've got those boundaries in place."

Andrew Strauss was speaking before the Ashes, available on Sky Sports Ashes HD, mobile and tablet devices from 10 July

Powered by article was written by John Ashdown and Andy Wilson, for The Guardian on Wednesday 26th June 2013 22.00 Europe/London © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010


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