The past two weeks were supposed to be an exciting passage of play for English cricket. Instead they have been plagued by the petty and childish dialogue between Kevin Pietersen and the English Cricket Board (ECB), tarnishing what was supposed to be a marquee clash between England and South Africa.
From accusing fellow England players of creating a parody Twitter account, to sending inflammatory text messages to South African players about Andrew Strauss, the whole thing reads like a badly scripted soap opera. But while KP’s rapport with the ECB has never exactly been an entente cordiale since his debut in 2004, one cannot help but feel his most recent exploits are the last straw.
If all the above is true, the ECB have, logically at least, done the right thing by disallowing Pietersen from playing in the ongoing Lord’s Test match. Such actions are damaging to team unity and as what KP did was unprofessional he should, quite rightly, be reprimanded.
But let us not go too far. Cricket is, thankfully, not always about applying legal protocol and institutional procedure. It is about flourishing by creating teams with balance, experience and quality.
And KP is quality. He might be brash, arrogant and even selfish. But no one can dispute that the man can play cricket. Let us be very clear about this: if Kevin Pietersen is not allowed to return to the English cricket set up, the only loser will be English cricket.
Cast your mind back to the 29th October 2011: a humid, sweltering Kolkata night where England need 121 runs to win the T20 against India on a slow, turning Bengal pitch.
England’s newcomers were out of their depth, unable to cope with the exotic doosras and carrom balls that featured in the sub-continent as was feared months before. Commentators called the T20 the conclusion of a miserable overseas tour and the painful hangover of the 2011 summer Test euphoria.They were wrong.
Kevin Pietersen, like a generalissimo, confident and poised, strode out to the crease at number 3. In the space of 39 balls, he mauled his Indian counterparts with an explosive 53, complete with three KP authenticated sixes.The match after that was England’s: indeed their only victory in any format on tour.
In recent times, Kevin’s daring, imagination and will-power have been invaluable to England’s otherwise merely clinical line-up. It was his imperious century in Sri Lanka alone that allowed England to return home with some dignity after an annus horribilis of overseas cricket.
In case you’ve missed the point, Kevin Pietersen is an undisputable asset for English cricket. At home he is destructive, and abroad he is dazzling. He brings an x-factor to the England set up, distinguishing himself as a veritable match winner. While England have been consistent and disciplined at home, they lack batsmen who can wrench games away from oppositions in the Sehwag or AB De Villiers mould.
The other accusation hurled at Pietersen is that he would be much happier hitting sixes in the IPL and earn the fat pay checks, rather than graft in the England team. A balance certainly needs to be found and it is unrealistic for KP to expect regular England call-ups and play the full season of the Premier League. But as far as I am concerned, there is nothing wrong with a player wanting to earn money by playing the lucrative tournament while he is still young and has the talent to do so.
So, the complex dressing-room issues and the loss of trust between the England management and Pietersen are not problems that will be resolved overnight. Pietersen has made strides towards this in the past week, making himself completely available for all cricket formats for England, and is said to be meeting Strauss personally on Wednesday.
It will take time to forgive and forget the antagonism. But forgive and forget they must.
For losing Kevin Pietersen, a player whose skill and prowess is so obviously manifest, would be a terrible blow for cricket: a sport, like any other, that thrives only when the best players are on the field.