There is a story going round that the reason Kevin Pietersen’s England contract was cancelled was a players’ revolt. Following the 5-0 Ashes debacle, the rest of the team told the mercurial star: “If you’re not going to win matches for us, you might as well go.”

As I narrate this story, Giles Clarke, chairman of the England and Wales Cricket Board, creases up with laughter, saying: “I don’t think things got quite that cynical.”

We are meeting in a London hotel before Clarke flies off to Bangladesh for the Twenty20 World Cup where England play their first match against New Zealand on Saturday. So how would Clarke describe Pietersen’s sacking? The 60-year-old businessman, who has been at the helm of English cricket for seven years, leans back in his chair and says: “Who plays for England is a matter for the national selectors and their decision was a brave one.”

Clarke hints this bravery was prompted by what the captain Alastair Cook wanted. “You select your captain, you discuss what that captain requires, what he’s looking for. He has to decide what that team are about and what needs doing. This is about the culture of the team.”

And, in this post-Pietersen culture, Clarke is keen for English cricket to learn from their counterparts at Twickenham. “Stuart Lancaster has done a fantastic job. In a very short space of time, he has sorted out English rugby. He’s talked the language of teams which Paul Downton [managing director of the ECB] and I like very much.

“Paul said to me, ‘If you look at the most successful sporting team over the last 100 years, of course, it is the All Blacks’. One of the fundamentals they live by is the team. You just don’t get to play if you don’t believe in it. In the end the team must matter.”

Clarke, of course, has previous with Pietersen versus the team. In 2009, Pietersen, then captain, told the board either Peter Moores should be removed as coach or he would give up the captaincy. The board, led by Clarke, removed them both.

“Hugh Morris [then managing director of the ECB] felt that was the right thing to do. The board supported Hugh 100 per cent.”

But does that not mean England’s most gifted batsman for a generation has been sacrificed? “Well, he hasn’t actually had a particularly successful time since his runs in India, not extraordinary,” says Clarke, referring to the Ashes tour where Pietersen was England’s top run scorer but averaged only 29.4.

Fall-out: Giles Clarke believes the reaction to those struggles was over the top
Fall-out: Giles Clarke believes the reaction to those struggles was over the top
“English supporters must move on. There isn’t going to be any going back, that’s for sure. That tour was a watershed. Your No3 batsman [Jonathan Trott] leaves the tour after the First Test. That’s pretty cataclysmic, frankly. Then your world-class off-spinner [Graeme Swann] retires. You cannot stop men retiring even during a series. Then you lose the series. You’ve got to build a team. You’re going to need to make changes.”

Those changes have also seen the end of Andy Flower’s reign as head coach. In five years, Flower took England to No1 in the world and won three successive Ashes but Clarke says Downton, who started work at the ECB last month, wanted to have one man in charge of the Test and one-day teams.

“Paul did not think that, if you split the coaching between two different men, you could successfully create a good culture in the England team. Quite obviously, as Andy Flower had been a key part of that decision [to split the roles], he clearly wouldn’t be continuing as coach. He didn’t want to have the whole thing because he felt it was too draining for him personally and affecting his private life.”

The appointment of a new head coach will not be made until England return from Bangladesh next month at the earliest but, despite all this upheaval, Clarke refuses to accept English cricket is at an historic low.

“It’s utter nonsense to say we’re at some sort of massive low ebb,” responds Clarke, robustly. “Terrible is a ridiculous word to use about sport. We won the Ashes 3-0 in the summer. It could easily have been 4-0. But a series of circumstances combined, much of which was about the quality of Australia. They were an absolutely outstanding team. If anybody had said in October that Australia, having beaten us, would go to South Africa and beat the world No1 side at home, no serious judge would have believed them. This side will cause us a lot of problems in 2015. We’ve got a lot of work to do between now and then.”

And that work, Clarke believes, could begin as early as this summer but he is taking comfort from events that happened when he was only six years old. “I would look on this winter rather like 1958-59 when we arrived in Australia as favourites and lost comprehensively. Yet in the winter of 59-60, we went to West Indies, won the series and actually, for the next 10 years, we were pretty much level with Australia.”

This summer bears an uncanny resemblance to 1959. Now, as then, India will play a five-Test series, amazingly for the first time since that summer. But, while 55 years ago India got walloped 5-0, the 2014 version are a very different proposition both on and off the field. With modern cricket financed by the sale of television rights, the appetite for the game in India means that country provides around 80 per cent of world cricket’s income. Despite this, the income was distributed equally, much to the annoyance of the Indians. However, a decision last month by the International Cricket Council means India will now get the lion’s share.

Clarke played a huge part in orchestrating this controversial change and robustly denies it has meant giving into the Indian “moneybags”. “Each of the full members getting the same was clearly ridiculous. Why were Zimbabwe and Bangladesh, who were not delivering on the field, being paid the same amount as India who are, to a significant extent, funding everybody except England?

“Not only have they been getting the same amount of money, £52million over eight years when they’ve produced a billion, but also they have been touring everybody else on a consistent basis, rearranging schedules to do that. If they hadn’t done that, some of these guys [New Zealand, West Indies] would have gone bust. Now we get India to take responsibility for driving the ICC. Previously they’d been standing outside chucking rocks. India has every reason to want to lead and generate the most possible money for the ICC.”


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