England selectors look for solution to Kevin Pietersen conundrum
The Kevin Pietersen saga is an issue that needs to be addressed sooner rather than later, writes Matt Cansick
England’s squad for their forthcoming tour of India will be announced on Tuesday, and there is one name everyone will be listening out for: Kevin Pietersen.
The ECB selectors had delayed their decision in order to give themselves time to look at alternatives and hold further talks, but this is an issue that needs to be addressed sooner rather than later.
Will, or indeed should, Pietersen resume his international career?
The ‘provocative texts’ that led to his exile – and the ensuing decision not to renew his central contract – have illustrated all the qualities previously tolerated as a necessary evil alongside his moments of magic. A tipping point has been reached, and the furore has been entirely of Pietersen’s own making.
His retirement from one-day cricket was a decision made on his own terms, as was the release of his ill-judged statement on YouTube.
Already on thin ice, the text messages represented the final straw, but can England afford to permanently lose a batsman widely regarded as one of the best in the world and a genuine game-changer?
There are a number of factors that favour a return to the side for Pietersen.
At 32, and with 88 Test caps already behind him, he should be entering his prime. Judging by his on-field performances to date, it would seem foolish to waste his undoubted talent.
Furthermore, England have a new captain, Alastair Cook, which provides an opportunity for a line to be drawn under what has been a troubled summer.
Even Pietersen, with his supreme self-confidence, will surely recognise the need to re-establish his place in the side following a significant breakdown in trust.
The language in which he is most fluent in this regard is runs; what better way to start the process of reconciliation than with a couple of big hundreds in the notoriously challenging sub-continent?
But as we all know, things are not that simple, particularly when the next item on the schedule is an overseas tour.
It is one thing to bring Pietersen back in for a Twenty20, or even an ODI series. It’s another altogether for the team to spend two months with a player willing to divulge sensitive information to the opposition during a crucial series.
While there is a new captain, the same players remain – Cook included. In the recent BBC Radio 5 programme ‘We need to talk about Kevin’, the word ‘loathing’ was mentioned when discussing the antipathy felt towards Pietersen by the rest of the team. This is not a minor disagreement that can be put to one side in the name of professionalism.
The main problem faced by Andy Flower and the selectors is that if he is not recalled, the shadow of KP will linger as long as he is playing.
Any time the England batsmen are struggling, the Surrey scorecard will be the first port of call for disgruntled fans. If Pietersen is omitted from the squad for India, it will not be the end of the matter.
In many ways, the best outcome would be Pietersen declaring himself unavailable for selection. This, of course, will not happen, as while he is resolute in his belief that he should be allowed to play in the IPL, he craves the glory of the Test arena.
Flower, along with his backroom staff, has worked extremely hard to create a close-knit unit, and the fact that Pietersen has been cast out on his own shows that the squad has bought into this.
Andrew Strauss said after the third test against South Africa that he had never been prouder of his men and the way they responded. They will not welcome their former team mate back with open arms.
This may yet provide the means for a satisfactory, if not amicable, resolution. Pietersen will have to work harder than ever to regain the respect of his colleagues, both by scoring runs and trying to be more of a team player.
If approached correctly, this could be of huge benefit to a team trying to rediscover the spark that took them to the top of the test rankings.
As in 2009 when a new captain was last appointed, Pietersen is dominating the headlines for all the wrong reasons.
We can only hope that England bounce back as successfully as they did then.