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  • Robbie James

Why Finn Russell should use his Parisian salary to meet with one of cricket’s Englishman

Updated: Jun 9, 2020

In February 2017, England men’s Football manager Gareth Southgate visited Pennyhill Park, the training facility for England men’s Rugby team. It was a time when Eddie Jones’ men had won 15 games on the bounce, taking down the likes of Australia and now world champions, South Africa. Southgate claimed to obtain comprehension of a ‘’winning culture’’. And so he did. The following year his side reached the World Cup semi final for only the third time in their history.

Arguably, this is evidence that different sports are compatible with one another. Many ideologies and principles are transferable, occasionally in a physical way, but probably more obviously when it comes to the psychology of a professional athlete, or a successful team.

Patriarchy and accents aside, there could be scope for a conversation between former England cricketer Kevin Pietersen and Scottish Rugby’s Finn Russell. Pietersen, a man with eight thousand test match runs to his name, the fastest player in the history of the game to reach two thousand One Day International runs and the invention of the ‘switch hit’ shot. Finn Russell stands with a British and Irish Lions appearance to his name and is a player with so much talent pundits are describing him as Scotland’s greatest ever.

Back in January 2009 Pietersen had a suspected fall out with coach-at-the-time, Peter Moores. Pietersen described their relationship as ‘not healthy’ and this ultimately began a series of complications including accusations of team bullying, another fall out with a succeeding head coach Andy Flower, and ultimately the beginning of the end of his international career, earlier than England fans had hoped for, in 2014. A lack of feeling wanted or valued has always remained at the helm of Pietersen’s unsettlement in the England setup. Seemingly he felt the mood in the dressing room was one of supremacy and dominance. At heart, Pietersen was the most devastating player in the team, but was not made to feel like it.

‘’most pivotal position in a side, a position which must be filled by your best player’’

Here’s where the comparison originates. Pietersen was deemed to be England’s best player at that time, and certainly one of the greatest England has ever had. Finn Russell is one of the best players that Scotland have ever possessed. Both Pietersen and Russell play/played pivotal roles in their sides. Russell plays fly half, the anchor of any Rugby Union side, both technically and tactically, the communicative hub of the team. Pietersen’s position was number four in the batting order for England, conceivably the most pivotal position in a side, a position which must be filled by your best player (batter).

These two professionals are both match winners. Pietersen could counter attack at will. Whack a few sixes and blast a brutal century from half as many deliveries to win England a game in any format. Russell can win a game with any one of the ample tricks he keeps in his Stirling born box. An innovative pass from behind or a delicate and exquisitely placed kick onto the backs of the oppositions defence.

‘’for both these teams, they need press the accelerator on their progression’’

The timings of the these two episodes also makes for intriguing consideration. In the late naughties and early twenty tens, England’s cricketers were struggling to break into the four best sides in the world, a below par seating by their standards. Scotland are coming off the back of a disappointing World Cup, and two losses from two attempts so far in the Guinness Six Nations. For both these teams, they need press the accelerator on their progression.

This resemblance feels incomplete without taking a close look into both minds of these mavericks. ‘’I need to do this for myself’’, explained Russell when he first spoke out about his relationship with Gregor Townsend since his rejection from the six nations squad. Does this suggest a level of mental unhealthiness for Russell in the current Scotland camp? It’s been well documented by Pietersen that in 2012 he sobbed to his coaches in a dressing room in Australia. These are immensely gifted players, seemingly very unhappy. It’s also worth wondering if we should be commending the maturity show by Finn Russell for preventing his mental health from getting to the stage England’s number four did?

The slight, but what might in the long run be a more major difference is that Pietersen’s irritation seemed to be directed towards both teammates and coaches alike - the environment that the so called ‘bullies’ created. Scotland’s Russell allegedly has an issue solely with Gregor Townsend, despite it being made public that the ‘two beer rule’ at the team hotel on that Sunday night was made by the leadership group, something Russell was left out of as he had not yet arrived from his game for Racing against Saracens. A mistake on Scotland’s part?

‘’it’s unique to coach a side with such a distinctive level of talent’’

Seven years on from international cricket, a journey into Pietersen’s mind would be fascinating. How much did he learn from his years of disconcertment? If he were to be placed back in that environment then what would his coping mechanisms be? Complimentary to this, surely Peter Moores learnt umpteen lessons from his experience of managing a maverick, a personality that has to feel wanted and included. Besides, it’s unique to coach a side with such a distinctive level of talent. Gregor Townsend sits in a seat that few previous Scotland coaches have sat in, to be blessed with having Russell at his disposal. Sure, a coach may be lucky enough to have a few world class players at any one time around, but very rarely a world beater, one of the best a country has seen.

It’s an absorbing vision that communication between two of the most entertaining sportsmen cricket and rugby has seen could help prevent the Finn Russell and Gregor Townsend saga from spiralling further out of control - even to just evoke a conversation to bring Finn Russell back into the Scotland setup, something for the fans to be hopeful for? Maybe this affair could be tackled in a more empathetic and pragmatic fashion.

Two team games. Two sports that require meticulous preparation, communication and trust. Two men that can carry the success of a team. Two roles that have the ability to expose a vulnerability if averagely executed.

Maybe there’s a way back for Finn Russell. Maybe Kevin Pietersen now knows that way.

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