KP’s mutiny might leave England more united

2012-08-14 00:00

CAPE TOWN — England may be one core batsman weaker on paper for the decisive final Test against South Africa at Lord’s from Thursday, but they might also be more united and cohesive as a team than at any prior stage in the series.

And if you placed yourself in English shoes just for a minute, which of those scenarios would you prefer, given that it is well-nigh impossible to find some sort of neutrality about “KP-gate”?

Some observers from both nations appear bewildered by the ditching of Kevin Pietersen from the home squad for Lord’s. Don’t count me among them, please.

There is every reason to suspect that Pietersen, for all his undoubtedly sublime qualities at the crease, has been guilty of some glaring elements of mutinous, irregular and erratic behaviour in the last few days.

A subsequent, self-orchestrated YouTube chunk of relatively humble pie at the weekend wasn’t going to make things hunky-dory again, just like that.

Tellingly, that occasion also failed to deliver any — perfectly understandably sought, yes? — denial by Pietersen that he sent text messages to Proteas players during the Headingley Test containing derogatory comments about England’s captain and coach, respectively Andrew Strauss and Andy Flower.

I first sensed that something was not quite right in the camp of the No. 1 ranked Test side (still tenuously the case ahead of the last encounter) from quite early on in the long-awaited series combat. There has just been an unusual lethargy — an undemonstrativeness, if you like — to England’s general body language, as if some infection has taken root.

We now know that it almost certainly has, in the shape of the single-minded Pietersen’s initially simmering, but now more fully boiling spat with his employers over his choice of formats for availability for England.

I also fancied that the mango was about to hit the fan when Pietersen, at the post-match presentation after the drawn middle Test at Headingley, pointedly praised the leadership of an old nemesis in Graeme Smith, the opposition captain.

Those aware of the history between the two will also know that not terribly long ago such an event would have been about as likely as the head of the Glasgow Rangers Supporters’ Club saying what a fine team Celtic were.

It’s simple and clear-cut, I believe: Pietersen went too far in rebelliousness, and immediate, meaningful censure had to follow, even if neutrals worldwide will hope that the impasse is eventually resolved. Like him or not, KP is too influential and mercurial a player to be removed from the Test arena when it so badly still needs cricketers like him.

As a Pietermaritzburg-born player in the England set-up, Pietersen should be particularly conscious of the fact that to a certain extent, he will always be treated as an outsider, so cosying up to the very South Africans they are doing battle with at present ranks among the more bizarre acts of sporting behaviour, if that is indeed what has been happening.

It is undeniable, in pure personnel terms, that the sidelining of the 32-year-old greatly weakens England’s batting line-up for their must-win Test. Yet persisting with him under current circumstances, I’d suggest, would have been regarded as lily-livered and only kept the home side’s collective harmony at the sort of less-than-optimum levels that may well have contributed to their dicey situation of 1-0 down with one to play.

Here’s one more thing to chew on: yes, KP may have lit up the Headingley stalemate with his shuddering innings of 149, but wasn’t he also a part of the England team bludgeoned by an innings at The Oval?

While it remains my firm belief that the impressive Proteas will do enough to secure the series at Lord’s anyway, I also have a gut feeling that England could produce their most passionate, animated performance of the series thus far.

And if they do, a certain Kevin Peter Pietersen ought to be quite worried about the prospect of adding significantly to his 88 caps for his adopted country. For he has been flirting too recklessly with the good nature of his England team-mates.

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