Cricket - Pressure grows on ECB to explain Pietersen axe

Former players, fans and pundits are clamouring for an explanation from the England and Wales Cricket Board after Kevin Pietersen was unceremoniously sacked on Tuesday night.

Pietersen was told he would no longer be a part of the England set-up as Alastair Cook's side look to rebuild following the dismal 5-0 Ashes defeat on the disastrous tour Down Under this winter.

England legend Ian Botham was just one of many to call for a proper explanation for what the ECB described as a "unanimous" decision to fire their best, most exciting, and most saleable player.

"I think everyone needs to remember what a terrific player he has been and the entertainment he has given," said Botham.

"I think it's about time the ECB put out an official statement so we all know what is going on. There have been a lot of Chinese whispers, a lot of ex-players speculating.

"I don't know what has happened. I don't think anybody does.

"He is one of the best players the country has ever had. His career has been terminated.

"Well why not tell us why? And don't give us the one-liner 'we are moving on, we're doing this, we're doing that.' He is 33, not 43."

[LINK: ECB unanimously fire Kevin Pietersen]

Another former England superstar, Alex Stewart, was equally baffled. While conceding that, "part of managing is creating a good environment", he was at a loss to understand Pietersen being cut loose.

"At times you could call him a maverick cricketer, but he's a match-winner, a natural born winner and a game changer. I am sure there will be many England fans who see this as a shameful decision," he said.

"I do not know the full facts but as an England fan I'd want my best players playing for England, to give us the best chance of winning."

Australian legend Shane Warne did not mince his words:

"It's a disgrace & a joke!" he wrote on Twitter. "The ECB is in a shambles."

Michael Vaughan, the England captain who had the benefit of Pietersen in his team while the South African-born star was at his best, was equally critical of the ECB's shroud of silence.

"I think the ECB have to explain to everyone exactly what KP has done so we can all have clarity and reasoning," he wrote on Twitter.

"I care about the England team and that's why I want all the best players in the side. It's sad that we can't manage someone like Kevin Pietersen."

[LINK: Factbox: Kevin Pietersen's career]

Another former England skipper, Nasser Hussain, also wanted to know what had gone on:

"There must have been things happening behind the scenes that Flower and Cook weren't amused with," he said.

"It would be nice to know from the ECB - if you're going to axe one of your best players - what those things are."

Hussain's predecessor in the captain's job, Michael Atherton, hinted at the personality clashes which might have been at the heart of the decision.

"There was a unanimity of views there from the people that count, so ultimately I think Kevin Pietersen found himself friendless," he said.

"He had no allies amongst the management, the hierarchy and the senior players as well because [England cricket chief] Paul Downton would have been taking soundings from them at the end of the Ashes tour. It was a pretty horrific Ashes tour and there have been a few victims along the way, but I think he just found himself friendless and with no allies."

The Daily Telegraph's Paul Hayward echoed demands for a proper explanation:

"The worst Ashes tour of all has ended with England dumping their best cricketer. Perhaps a disastrous trip to Australia needed one last lurch into the bizarre.

"If Kevin Pietersen really was Problem No1 once Andy Flower resigned as team director, justice demands that we hear a detailed explanation for his expulsion...

"Plenty said they watched Alastair Cook’s bedraggled team just to see Pietersen wave the mighty willow. If this was stretching a point in his defence, there is no denying the awkwardness of this moment.

"To consign the great entertainer to the wilderness when England are so low is a decision that flies in the face of sporting reality, however strong the case against him...

"And how strong is it? Was he late for team meetings? Was he rude to the captain or the coaching staff? Was his attitude to the warm-up games as high-handed as some allege?

"With England now stripped of their only bar-clearing talent these questions assume an almost judicial weight, because no player, however self-absorbed or annoying, should lose his international career on the back of generalised dislike in the camp."

[LINK: Maverick goes out with a whimper]

The Guardian's cricket correspondent Mike Selvey took an alternatie view, seemingly confident that the ECB would not have pulled the plug on Pietersen's career without very good reason:

"The details of quite why England cricket has decided to part company with Kevin Pietersen have yet to emerge fully but it is unprecedented and will have taken a monumental catalogue of issues for Paul Downton, the England and Wales Cricket Board's new managing director, to have come to such a decision," he wrote.

"One does not jettison the finest England batsman of his generation for no good reason, although whether, because of the legalities almost certainly involved, that is ultimately articulated to everyone's satisfaction remains to be seen.

Selvey added that he does not feel the full story will come out any time soon - and that the ECB is harming itself by not revealing full details.

"Maybe we shall hear in time, although breath is not being held," he said. "Neither side is yet saying what the issues are that have led to such a cataclysmic decision.

"Somewhere along the line, though, once the lawyers have filled their boots, cricket supporters deserve a proper explanation. As it stands, the ECB does itself no favours, for in the absence of information, it will simply appear that the management is culpable and Pietersen is the fall guy."

The Daily Mail's Mike Dickson speculated in a different direction, wondering what losing captain Alastair Cook had done to avoid any shrred of blame while the axe has fallen on those around him.

"Alastair Cook is clearly a decent man - and a lucky one, too. This has been a strange final reckoning for England after a shambolic tour of Australia: gone is an outstanding coach and gone is the best player in the team, but the captain who so haplessly presided over it all out in the middle has been retained.

"An outsider, an Australian for example, might find it curious that the one leading player in the saga surviving intact is the one who remains so unproven in his job...

"He emerges as bomb-proof, and perhaps he will one day reveal what some in authority clearly see in him. His apparent move against Pietersen looks about the most decisive thing he has done all winter so, who knows, we may even come back to look on this as a start."