London: Andrew Strauss, the former England captain has opened up about the Kevin Pietersen saga that cast its shadow over England's miserable summer in which they relinquished their World No. 1 ranking in Test cricket to South Africa.
Strauss stepped down as captain and handed over the reins to Alastair Cook as England got ready to embark on a four-Test series in India that will begin in November. Pietersen, who was originally left out, was later added to the squad that will land in India on October 28. Strauss, who was at the centre of the entire Pietersen text saga, believed the team would not find it tough to get on with the task at hand.
"Maybe it actually makes it easier for the team that I'm not there because some of it was directed to me. It would have been harder if I'd stayed," Strauss said in a freewheeling interview to The Guardian newspaper. He also emphasized that the reason for announcing his retirement wasn't connected to the Pietersen controversy, but due to lack of form. "I had noticed signs that my batting was going backwards," he conceded. "I was starting to feel a bit old and that's not a good place to be as a professional athlete. I first felt it 12 months ago. I didn't have a great summer in 2011 and then over the winter I didn't play particularly well. I had a bit of a resurgence against West Indies but I felt like I was swimming against the tide.
"If I'm brutally honest, by the time we reached World No. 1, I had ticked off everything I'd wanted to achieve. It's then hard to keep yourself hungry and motivated as captain. I also wasn't as mobile in the field. My agility was dropping. One of my favourite shots - the pull - was one I wasn't playing very often and I couldn't work out why. So maybe my reactions were slowing down. I loved captaining and trying to win games - but I wasn't enjoying batting any more," he said.
Strauss however felt, he could have sorted the differences with Pietersen a lot earlier. "Because of what happened with KP I felt guilty not sorting it before I left. I didn't want to leave it on Andy Flower's (team director) plate and I felt uncomfortable with Cooky (Alastair Cook) having to deal with it as one of his first tasks. But that would have been the wrong reason for me to stay. I had to go," said Strauss, reflecting on the summer.
Pietersen, who was accused of sending derogatory text messages targetting Strauss and few other members of the England team, earlier in the summer announced his retirement from One-Day Internationals owing to the hectic schedule. According to the rules laid out by the England and Wales Cricket Board, that automatically ruled him out of contention for a berth in England's World Twenty20 squad. Pietersen had also expressed interest in playing the full season of the Indian Premier League for the Delhi Daredevils, for whom he played just six matches in 2012 due to England's international calendar.
Strauss was surprised at Pietersen's willingness to choose club over country. "We knew that Kevin was having issues about the IPL. He retired from one-day cricket and didn't seem happy because it was clear that he was keen to commit to the IPL. But as players we were outside of that. So when it came to a head we were all quite surprised."
Despite the controversies, Strauss had utmost respect for Pietersen's ability and talent as a batsman. He felt, it was his special qualities as a batsman that made his resolve to sort out the differences in an amicable way. "Well, what makes people like KP special as cricketers is they are different. Nine-tenths of my time as England captain I found him a good guy to have in my team. He set the right example in practice and I felt he could have been far more resentful of me in the sense that he had been removed as captain before I took over.
"But he just got on with his job and our relationship was pretty good - which is why it was so surprising and baffling when I heard what had been going on. In the preceding months he had not given me any hint of what he thought about me," said Strauss.
Strauss and Pietersen have since met and have patched up their differences. Pietersen has also tendered an apology and has met with some of his team mates in an effort to normalise relations within the team. "I don't think anyone got to the bottom of the text messaging saga. But Kevin has since come up to me and apologised for it and I respect that. He seemed contrite and I think he was sincere. Looking back I think it was wrong some of our players were following that parody twitter account in his name. But I still don't think it's a justification for what Kevin did."
"It would be fantastic if Kevin does recommit himself to English cricket at a greater level," said Strauss. "But if, deep down, he still feels more loyalty to his IPL franchise then obviously it's going to be difficult for him."