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'Unanimous feeling' against Pietersen

George Dobell
May 23, 2014 « Kroos: 'United never an issue' | WILL TEST Rashid's burst takes Yorkshire top »
Paul Downton said he had never seen someone as disinterested on a cricket field as Kevin Pietersen during the Sydney Test © PA Photos
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Paul Downton has claimed there was a "unanimous feeling" within the England camp that the time had come to move on from Kevin Pietersen and suggested the team who lost the Ashes had fallen "into a mindset thinking they were better than they were".

Downton, the new managing director of England cricket, told the BBC's Test Match Special that he talked to every member of the England management on the Ashes tour and quite a few senior players and "couldn't find one supporter" for Pietersen.

"All I know is I and others wanted people purely focused on playing for England," Downton said. "There was an enormous amount of frustration surrounding KP from everyone in the management team. I watched every ball of the Sydney Test and I had never seen anyone as disinterested or distracted on a cricket field.

"The accusation made was that he had too many different agendas and was not 100 per cent focused on playing for England. Who knows if that's right but that was the unanimous feeling. I couldn't find one supporter saying 'we want KP to stay in the side'.

"I'm not saying all that happened in Australia was down to KP. Dynamics disintegrate when you're under pressure. Maybe all the players were a bit distracted in terms of commercial opportunities. Test cricket is hard work and back-to-back Ashes series had an enormous effect on mental energy. We suffered from that point of view."

While Downton reiterated that there was no single incident that led him to conclude that the time had come to drop Pietersen, he accepted that, from a PR perspective, it would have been easier to dismiss Pietersen as a direct result of the "textgate" issue in 2012.

"The public would have understood it more," Downton said. "Andy Flower was trying to back Alastair Cook ahead of the tour to India and a peace deal was brokered. But a huge amount of trust was lost.

"He was brought back, which opened the opportunity up for rehabilitation. In the end that lasted 18 months and we've decided to make a split. The team has to grow and rebuild and can only do it without KP in the side.

"KP had a fantastic career but it was not incident free," Downton said. "There were issues. We managed KP fantastically. He played 10 years of Tests. But there was a strong feeling within the management that team won't grow until we make a decision and move on.

"We had to rebuild the side. That side, with KP in it, had just lost 5-0. We lost Strauss 18 months ago and never really replaced him. Graeme Swann retired during the tour and Jonathan Trott, who I saw yesterday, is recovering but is quite long way from getting back to playing cricket. So we made a decision on KP. We had to rebuild the side. And we had to decide who we were going to back. Were Cook and Bell going to be backbone, or were we going to back KP? It became a bit of a no-brainer.

Downton also admitted that he, and the ECB, could perhaps have handled the situation better in the days following the decision not to select him for the World T20 which sparked a backlash on social media.

"We told KP 'we won't pick you for the World T20'. From then on he was clear he wanted to come to a settlement to terminate central contract. His team pushed for that. We would have been quite happy to let the contract run out. It was a week before the IPL auction. KP wanted the freedom to play where he wanted to play and he won a big contract because of it.

"The lawyers took three days to argue to and fro and it did leave a vacuum. I'd been in the job a week and I didn't know how best to handle it. I was not aware of social media at the time. It was always going to be noisy. But the sooner people understand that we have cut our ties with KP and moved on and that we're investing in younger players coming in to rebuild the side, the better."

Downton also suggested that the England team that lost the Ashes 5-0 had developed a mindset that overestimated their ability.

"There was a group of players together for a long time," he said. "And, in the words of Graham Gooch, felt they had one more tour left. There was a huge focus to win in India and keep the Ashes, but they were starting to play slightly defensive cricket.

"They had a wake-up call in New Zealand, then struggled over here again in the Ashes and we slowly lost confidence. We played on wickets that were slow and our batsmen lost confidence and we became too tight. We defended rather than attacked and fell apart under immense pressure.

"It's very rare when you have such a settled group for so long and it's very different not to become stale. The preparation and planning was the same in 2013 as it had been in 2010-11 but we couldn't recreate the same sense of urgency. The tanks were empty.

"Maybe, as a collective, the team got into a mindset thinking they were better than they were. No-one was deliberately complacent but maybe success turned out to be a false cocoon around them."

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

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