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Lawrence Booth: How very English of the ECB

January 14th, 2009 by Lawrence Booth in England

There is rarely anything straightforward or direct or transparent about English social interaction. We seem to be congenitally incapable of being frank, clear or assertive. We are always oblique, always playing some complex, convoluted game.

I’d love to claim that opening paragraph as my own, but I can’t. The words were written by the anthropologist Kate Fox in her fascinating work Watching the English, published in 2004 but strangely appropriate as we try to make sense of the departure of Kevin Pietersen. My guess is Pietersen has never so much as browsed the book. But if he ever fancies another crack at leading England he could do worse than make it second on his reading list behind Mike Brearley’s The Art of Captaincy.

In the eyes of the England and Wales Cricket Board, Pietersen committed a couple of tangible crimes: he did not have the full support of the dressing-room (the attempts by certain players in recent days to claim otherwise have exposed another of Fox’s defining English characteristics – hypocrisy); and he was seen to make excessive demands regarding the identity of the coach (according to Dennis Amiss, the vice-chairman of the ECB, this made his position untenable, but for some reason only once it became public: Fox points out that the English like to avoid embarrassment at all costs).

But there was another, tacit crime: Pietersen did not understand the Hidden Rules of English Behaviour – the sub-title of Fox’s work. He was not, in short, English. When people point out that Pietersen’s appointment in August was an accident waiting to happen, they may have been right – but almost certainly for the wrong reasons. After all, other captains have presided over divided dressing rooms: big egos are a fact of life in international sport. No, Pietersen’s unspoken crime was the un-English one of throwing his weight around without due deference to qualities to such as self-deprecation, humour and not taking the whole thing so damn seriously. His directness proved unsettling.

Look at the way the ECB handled his departure. The fact that Pietersen was in holiday in South Africa at the time of his sacking/resignation has provoked criticism, but the truth is his absence suited the ECB perfectly: the English, says Fox, dislike confrontation. And so Pietersen, according to the man himself, was dumped by a quick phonecall from Hugh Morris, itself confirmed by an even quicker email. Pietersen’s reaction (“Excuse me?!”) recalls Fox’s “American visitor” who wonders why the English can’t be “a bit more direct, you know, a bit more upfront”.

Hilariously, the ECB accepted a resignation Pietersen did not believe he had made because it suited them better than having to explain – beastly business! – the rather awkward ins and outs of the situation. In his News of the World interview on Sunday, Pietersen claimed he had yet to be told exactly why he had been sacked. Sounds about right.

There is one more piece of what Fox calls the “grammar” of English behaviour that could be relevant here. The flip-side of our failure to be “direct and upfront” is a tendency to go over the top when we feel a point has to be made (road rage, for Fox, is the classic excessive response of the previously buttoned-up Englishman). The ECB failed to address the simmering discontent between Pietersen and Peter Moores quickly enough, then over-reacted completely when Pietersen’s disquiet became public.

Andrew Strauss will be more canny about keeping his thoughts to himself, because he instinctively understands the truth behind Fox’s lament: “Every social situation is fraught with ambiguity, knee-deep in complication, hidden meanings, veiled power-struggles, passive-aggression and paranoid confusion. We seem perversely determined to make everything as difficult as possible for ourselves.” In particular, she might have added, for our cricket captains.
Lawrence Booth writes on cricket for the Guardian. His third book, Cricket, Lovely Cricket? An Addict’s Guide to the World’s Most Exasperating Game is out now published by Yellow Jersey

Posted in England | 6 Comments »

6 Responses to “Lawrence Booth: How very English of the ECB”

  1.   freddiefantoo says:

    This certainly is the perfect example of the English journalist: encourage the mischevious disclosure of confidential information, spend a week indulging in malicious speculation and character assassination, and when every significant allegation turns out to be untrue, write an article of supreme smugness blaming the ECB for incompetence and accusing the players of lying. If you judge Englishness by your own standards, no wonder you have such a low opinion of it.

  2.   Lawrence Booth says:

    freddiefantoo: sorry, you’ve lost me. If you’re able to back up what you’re trying to say, I’ll do my best to answer!


  3.   Zinho says:

    My friend and I have been having the same covesation recently abut how the ECB appointed someone with brash tendancies, arrogant and self-assured, and then fired him for not being, well, English enough.

  4.   Saurabh Somani says:

    great post as usual… love your articles!

    also, not related to the post, have just purchased your latest book, and its an absolutely delightful read!


  5.   maher says:

    I used to compare ECB - BCCI and argument was look how professional they are compare to BCCI.

    But I think they have messed-up big time. Strong captains mostly produce results so it was nice to see KP getting job.
    Now same happen in India. First step he took was to ask BCCI to drop ganguli and dravid. Its bigger ask than sacking Peter moore. BCCI accepted for first time in its history, and first thing happened to ODI team was victory in CB seriese.
    If they asked KP to think about his plans and put it forward than they should have accepetd his demand. what coach PM has done anyway?
    he was wrong choice in first place So anything done to keep him going was even bigger mistake. Its like to hide one lie keep lying…
    I still dont know why they have executive director? what you say LB?

  6.   Gumbo says:

    The PCB have called asking England to hand their controversies back

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