It seems the only way maverick Kevin Pietersen has a faint hope of gaining selection to the England squad is for England to fare badly against New Zealand and in the Ashes series against Australia. Defeats would certainly pile on the pressure and bring about a public outcry for Pietersen’s return. He is being treated by the England hierarchy as an outcast despite his brilliant record across all three formats where he is the country’s leading run scorer.
Andrew Strauss, the former England captain under whom Pietersen played a lot of his cricket and now the Director of Cricket ECB ruled out a possible return for Pietersen on the grounds of “underlying issues on trust and respect”.
Pietersen has been accused of sending text messages to the South African team in 2012 during Strauss’ captaincy, a series which England lost 0-2. The bitterness and lack of trust that surfaced then has been simmering since and once Strauss was appointed to the important seat he reignited the flame by closing the door of a Pietersen comeback this season.
Actually Strauss began his new role by first ditching England coach Peter Moores and followed it up by effectively ending the international career of Pietersen who at 35 does not have many years of cricket ahead of him although he showed that he was fit and mentally strong in scoring a career defining innings of 355 not out for Surrey against Leicestershire in a county championship match at the Oval.
It was a timely innings to remind Strauss and Co that he was in prime form. But the way England has treated him it is not his ability as a cricketer which is the core issue but his conduct as an England team member.
England’s dogmatic approach to his selection is certainly depriving the country and the cricket following public at large one of the finest batsmen of this generation. His absence has already made deep dents into England’s overall performance. Since Pietersen went out of international cricket at the end of England’s 0-5 Ashes thrashing in Australia in 2013-14, England’s overall form across the two formats has dipped drastically. They lost a Test series in England for the first time to Sri Lanka and after beating India 3-1 managed only a drawn series in the Caribbean. Their performances in ODI cricket has been the worst in recent history failing to beat a single Test-playing nation in the 2015 Cricket World Cup and being eliminated in the preliminary round. In bilateral series they have won only one (v West Indies) out of four losing twice to Sri Lanka and once to India.
Strauss has been described “as a vindictive moron” by Piers Morgan, a staunch Pietersen fan and further support for Pietersen came in the form of England team mate Ian Bell who has gone on record stating in the London Telegraph that he had not witnessed any breakdown in trust between the exiled batsman and his England team-mates.
Bell, the first England player to comment on Strauss’ decision to blackball Pietersen on the grounds the ECB did not trust him, said Pietersen was the best batsman he had played with, and was right to feel “aggrieved” over his treatment. It is a comment which is certain to arouse a great deal of anxiety within the England camp.
The Telegraph also goes onto accuse England captain Alastair Cook as the villain behind Pietersen’s exile.
“What has been going on behind closed doors is that it was Alastair Cook who barred Pietersen’s return by threatening to resign as England captain. Cook is understood to have told the ECB his position in the West Indies at which point the board’s stance on Pietersen shifted,” the newspaper reported.
“They then began speaking to candidates for the director of cricket job who were told, if not in direct language, that they would have to somehow manage the Pietersen issue because Cook will not have him in the team.”
Cook’s bone of contention with Pietersen is the criticisms in his book and the personal attacks on Twitter he received from Pietersen’s supporters last summer which reduced his wife Alice to tears. Cook has not forgiven Pietersen for that and he is the major obstacle to Pietersen’s return.
It seems the only way Pietersen can have a chance of making an England return is for Cook to be removed from the captaincy. Cook has been wearing an uneasy crown in the past two years as England captain. He lost his place and the captaincy in the ODI team following a 5-2 thrashing from Sri Lanka last December and is hanging on perilously to the Test captaincy which may not last long if results are poor against New Zealand and Australia this summer. Cook’s personal form has also been questionable until the recent series against West Indies in the Caribbean where he managed to score his first Test century in two years.
Pietersen’s future hangs on England’s performance this summer and on Cook’s future as England captain. He is not short of support from the cricketing public at large. A readers’ poll conducted currently by ESPN Cricinfo shows that 82.47 percent think that Pietersen should play for England again.