Cow Corner

It’s not just KP who should be soul-searching

Cow Corner

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Removing Kevin Pietersen from the fray was supposed to stop the distractions ahead of the crucial third Test between England and South Africa.

A resounding success, then.

There are 48 hours before England play a Test which could see them knocked off the top spot in the rankings, and the polarising batsman is the only story hovering around Lord's.

So what's KP actually done to earn his axing? Evidently, it's not a question of form — he flayed the South African opponents he was reportedly texting all around Headingley in an innings of 149 during his last Test.

We turn, then, to the words of ECB managing director Hugh Morris: "It was agreed that a number of actions needed to be completed to re-engage Kevin within the England dressing room. A fundamental item was to confirm publicly that no derogatory texts had been sent by Kevin to the South African team."

Given that the ECB admit, in effect, that they have not seen these texts, if this is the reason that one of England's top six batsmen has been omitted, it is a flimsy one. The reported texts are merely straws which have broken this particular camel's back.

It all boils down to the phrase 're-engage Kevin within the England dressing room'. KP is about as popular with his team-mates as a badminton player trying to lose a match at the Olympics. Or, as Nasser Hussain put it: "I know for a fact there are players in this England side who cannot stand Kevin Pietersen".

Cricket is a team game — of course it is — but being detached from your team-mates is not a reason to be dropped. Australian leg-spinner Shane Warne was well-known to have a terrible relationship with wicketkeeper Adam Gilchrist, but it didn't stop them being one of history's most successful bowler/keeper combinations. Similarly, Warne's contempt for long-time coach John Buchanan's methods was an open secret — but it didn't stop him taking 708 Test wickets. As Warne himself noted on the Pietersen saga: "It's more important to be respected than liked in a team environment and for that matter in life. Everyone is different — it's up to the leadership group to make everyone feel special and important."

But that detachment does, however, leave you sorely exposed when things are not going your way. Regrettably, Pietersen's South African roots also make any 'fraternising' with the opposition that much more sensitive, too, and though they are not a factor here, they will be raised as one. And when Pietersen tried to call the shots over the limited-overs cricket he would play for England, or even talked about the possibility of skipping Test matches, several years of terse relations with board members and team-mates alike left him isolated and vulnerable.

This impasse is ludicrous, however, and reflects well on nobody.

Pietersen is far from blameless. He has made a bad situation worse: odd public pronouncements and a YouTube video of him 'unretiring' from international limited-overs cricket which was time that could have been better spent smoothing things over with management are just two examples.

But how do we know about Pietersen's 'unreasonable' demands? Presumably because someone was happy to let it slip into the public domain. If you believe that Pietersen has let down the ECB's trust in him, you should also question whether anyone from the England structure has let down his. In the context of KP's 'engagement' with the team, surely this is crucial?

His team-mates have, for the most part, cut loose a player who improves the side. You could read that as standing together for the sake of the team, or you could read that as a cliquish, self-interested behaviour.

There is one notable exception, according to the reports. Matt Prior apparently spoke to Pietersen by phone, taking the responsibility of bridge-building upon himself, asking how the situation might be resolved. He emerges, perhaps alone from this incident, with credit.

We don't know every last detail of the falling out. That will have to wait for the angry pens of the ghosted autobiographies some years down the line. Even then, it will doubtless be a very subjective and conflicting series of 'he saids' and 'they saids'.

All that can be said for certain is that it should never have been allowed to come to this.

The discontent has simmered throughout the summer. For more than two months KP's future has been up in the air, overshadowing matches and series. Surely defusing it should have been not only a priority, but achievable?

After all, Pietersen and the ECB's best interests are served by the batsman representing England and being happy while he does it — but getting the relationship between Pietersen, his team-mates and English cricket as a whole back on track seem to depend on some stubborn parties climbing down and quickly.

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