A crisis meeting of the England squad in Melbourne set in motion a train of events which culminated in Kevin Pietersen having a showdown with Andy Flower that sealed his fate as an international cricketer.
It can be revealed that Alastair Cook and Matt Prior, the captain and vice-captain, called an emergency meeting of the players on December 30, which should have been the fifth day of the fourth Test, without the knowledge of the coaching staff.
It was agreed that a schoolmaster-pupil relationship had developed in which players were relying too heavily on Flower to provide direction rather than standing on their own feet.
At the meeting it is understood that Pietersen, persuaded of his own interpretation, embarked on an anti-Flower rant. He misjudged the point the other players were trying to make, believing they were accusing the head coach of being overly prescriptive rather than paternalistic. Pietersen was told at the meeting that it was not a witch-hunt against Flower, a coach who had fallen out with him five years before during the Peter Moores sacking in January 2009, but that players had to take on more responsibility for their actions.
Flower got to hear about it and demanded an explanation. He spoke to Pietersen in his hotel room in Sydney, which is when the whole situation, and simmering tension on a losing tour, blew up. Flower then asked other players present at the meeting if it was true that they felt his coaching methods were the problem and was told that was not the case. This all happened around the same time Paul Downton linked up with the squad for the first time in Sydney on New Year’s Eve.
When Downton met Flower for his tour debrief this row helped to harden attitudes against Pietersen. The previously neutral Downton then held debriefs with senior players in Australia, the coaching staff and Cook before sacking Pietersen this week. That move has since led to a national debate with radio phone-ins on the BBC yesterday (Wednesday) devoted to the handling of one cricketer.
It also turned nasty as Prior was drawn into a row on Twitter with Piers Morgan, Pietersen’s loudest public ally, over the events in Melbourne. Morgan said that Prior addressed the team meeting in Melbourne and ‘‘slaughtered’’ Flower. He also said that Prior ‘‘stabbed’’ Pietersen in the back when he spoke to Flower about the meeting.
‘‘I don’t do this PR, spinning media rubbish but I refuse to be attacked by a bloke that knows very little about what goes on in the England set-up apart from rumour, gossip and hearsay from certain individuals (most of whom I’d take with a pinch of salt!!),’’ Prior responded.
‘‘Maybe I was recorded or ’hacked’ but if not I’d like to see where these words I apparently said have come from? I’m not the kind of person to divulge what is said in team meetings but all I will say is that Flower, Cook and the rest of my team mates know exactly what I said & the way in which it was meant!
‘‘There is no story here just an attempt to knock someone who has only ever had the team’s best interests at heart and tried my best on and off the field to help the England cricket team. I can hold my head up high in that knowledge.’’
Even Pietersen’s wife took to social media to attack her husband’s critics. She described Dominic Cork, the former England player turned broadcaster, as a liar for suggesting her husband and Cook nearly came to blows in Sydney. Cork had told Sky Sports that there was an altercation between the pair at the SCG.
When Downton met Flower for his tour debrief this row helped to harden attitudes against Pietersen.
Jessica Taylor, a member of the pop group Liberty X, tweeted: ‘‘Dominic Cork - there was no ’squaring up’ to Alastair Cook or ’off-field antics’ in Australia - you are lying, plain & simple.’’
In fact the circumstances behind the heated discussions between Pietersen and Cook at the SCG on New Year’s Eve. The pair did not ‘‘square up’’ or come close to blows but disagreed over that day’s training.
Instead of netting as they usually would two days before a Test, Cook decided to hold a physical fitness session having told the team that part of the reason they were losing was because they were not as fit as Australia. After the session Pietersen told Cook that the team were fitter than he had known at any other time in his career and felt that they should have been working on skills instead. Flower overheard this discussion and told Pietersen to meet him at the hotel later. It was during this confrontation that details of the team meeting in Melbourne were discussed.
Pietersen is a canny media operator. Darren Gough has managed to land exclusive interviews with Pietersen for his radio station TalkSport, and defended him yesterday (Wednesday).
‘‘I’ve spoken to KP and to other players and he has never had a better relationship with the team than he has at this time,’’ he said. ‘‘He says it’s the best team environment he’s ever been in. He gets on with everyone. I’m amazed at some of the rubbish that’s been spoken about regarding the excuses to leave him out. We haven’t got a coach, yet we’re telling someone he’s gone.
‘‘And the people making that decision... Paul Downton, managing director, he’s been out of the game for 15-20 years. Pathetic. James Whitaker, lovely man, he always looks smart, nice hair, nice suits. Chairman of selectors - one Test match for England.’’