The England captain, Alastair Cook, went on record before Thursday’s first Test with New Zealand to deny issuing a him-or-me ultimatum to the England and Wales Cricket Board over Kevin Pietersen’s continued international exile.
On a day when it emerged that the ECB has made contact with Yorkshire’s Jason Gillespie over the vacant head coach position, Cook insisted he fully supported the decision on Pietersen, while praising Andrew Strauss, the new director of England cricket, as a “great leader of men”.
Strauss and the ECB chief executive, Tom Harrison, quashed growing talk of a Pietersen return last week when they informed the 34-year-old batsman he would not feature in the senior team’s summer plans due to a lack of trust between the two parties.
But while Cook’s relationship with Pietersen has been broken since the doomed 2013-14 Ashes tour – a situation made worse by the latter’s incendiary autobiography last October, in which he compared him to Ned Flanders from the Simpsons – the current Test captain insists he did not influence this latest call. “There was no ultimatum. I can deny that,” Cook said at Lord’s on Wednesday. “It was a decision taken by Straussy and Tom Harrison. We weren’t consulted.”
When asked if he backed Strauss, his former opening partner and Test captain, in ending Pietersen’s stated dream of playing for England again, Cook added: “I do agree with the decision, yes. I’ve watched Straussy from the other end and I’ve worked underneath him as a vice-captain – he was a great leader of men.
“I know he thinks about decisions a hell of a lot and this wasn’t just an off-the-cuff decision. It’s one he gave a hell of a lot of thought to and I trust him to make the right decision over what he thinks is best for English cricket. That’s what’s happened in this situation. I’ve got to go out there and do what I’ve been trying to do: win games of cricket for England.”
More pressing for England – aside from this two-Test series against an aggressive New Zealand side that would lead to them dropping from fifth to seventh in the world rankings if defeated – is the appointment of a new head coach before the Ashes series in July. Gillespie is now understood to have spoken to Strauss over the telephone, with further talks imminent, although he has previously said he would need “serious persuasion” to leave Yorkshire, amid concerns over time commitments and the power he would wield.
The county champions insist the ECB has not officially approached them yet, although a club insider admitted private contact was likely to have already been made and that events were expected to gather pace over the next 24 hours.
Paul Farbrace, who previously worked with the former Australia fast bowler at Headingley and won the 2014 World Twenty20 when in charge of Sri Lanka, is currently in place as caretaker coach after the sacking of Peter Moores and while he would be interested in taking over full time, the former wicketkeeper would be equally happy to slot back into the coaching staff.
“I just want to be involved in working with the team and helping the team and its players to get better,” said Farbrace. “I have enjoyed being No2, I enjoy working with players and I enjoy being in the nets and practising. Whatever job I end up in, so be it.”
Cook, who has worked with permanent three head coaches in Andy Flower, Ashley Giles and Moores during his two-and-a-half years as England captain, believes making the correct appointment is of greater relevance than the speed by which it is made. “The most important thing is we get the right man for the job,” Cook said. “We’ve got Farby, who is a very fine man and has won at international level. In an ideal world we would all agree you want them in before the Ashes. But if that isn’t the case, we can’t do anything about it.”Such upheaval in English cricket has left many tipping New Zealand for the series. And while the rock-and-roll World Cup campaign in which they finished as runners-up to Australia may have come with the white ball, their belligerent approach to batting and the new-ball threat of Tim Southee and Trent Boult makes such predictions understandable.
Their captain, Brendon McCullum, is wary of the home threat, however, in this 100th Test between the two sides. “England are obviously going through some challenges, we’ve been there and understand what every team has to go through,” he said.
“But they are still stacked full of world-class players and in their own conditions will be a tough proposition. We are by no means thinking we have got them and know we’ll have to play extremely good cricket.”
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