Kevin Pietersen, the conundrum

2012-08-10 00:00

KEVIN Pietersen stirred the waters on his departure from South Africa. He drank from the devil’s bowl when he sizzled in 2005 on his first tour of South Africa. His latest ruffling of feathers will test the England and Wales Cricket Board’s mettle.

I should think Cricket South Africa’s acting chief executive, Jacques Faul, is glad that he is not in David Collier’s shoes. One hopes Andrew Hudson never experiences the migraine that England convenor Geoff Miller is having. Pietersen has always divided opinion and his latest rift with his team-mates and the ECB has left his international career in limbo. He is not entirely faultless, but the ECB has some head scratching to do on how it will manage this crisis.

Pietersen’s complaint is simple. He wants to pick and choose when he plays for England. With the current workload they face, it is a feasible option. But when such standards are applied, especially when you have players who have constant axes hanging over their heads, such territory needs to be trod on very carefully. When there are double standards applied, it is easy for teams to pull apart and in team sports, each member has to adhere to the same rules.

The beast had been fed by his reluctance to play one-day cricket and preferring to focus on the shortest format. ECB rules don’t allow for a player to ditch one format for the other, but the rules were bent for Andrew Strauss and Pietersen wants the same treatment. His preference for the Indian Premier League is also another moot point with the ECB and its well-known dislike for the tournament.

The Maritzburg College lad knows that he is good and does not need to be told about his abilities. Pietersen is not the easiest of players to manage, as stints at Nottinghamshire and Hampshire would suggest. It was his mammoth ego that saw him knock heads with Peter Moores. That did not end well, with Moores having to vacate his position. Pietersen also found his head on the chopping block, losing the captaincy tag he had worn so well. Irrespective of his talent, a number of coaches would have sought to get rid of the cancer, as prevention is better than cure.

Pietersen carried a different tag: the best batsman in his team, with his bat doing most of the talking. When on form, even conditions do not seem to matter, as displayed at Headingley on Saturday.

The “Andocracy” of Andrew Strauss and Andrew Flower won the 2009 Ashes without a major Pietersen contribution and it is something they will always hold onto. After his exhilarating 149 at Headingley last week, an innings that matched Sir Ian Botham’s selfsame 1981 unbeaten knock for quantity and quality, this has chamged. Without his contribution, it would have been difficult to see the second Test progressing into the last session of the final day. It was a throwback to the KP of 2005, whose 158 at the Oval freed England from the chains of the Ashes dungeon

In one of my irrelevant conversations with some upcountry coaches, the issue of dressing-room egos cropped up frequently and how they could tear a dressing room apart. Such dressing rooms need strong captains who can make those troublesome characters eat out of their hands. One coach spoke about managing those egos and catering to their needs rather than massaging them and letting them consume those which are unprotected.

Cricket may be littered with individual moments of brilliance, some of which Pietersen can lay claim to, but it is a team sport that no individual can be bigger than. For all is histrionics, international cricket has survived two world wars and 135 years. It will survive without him, but England cannot replace him.

Pietersen needs the game more than the game needs him. England need him, but not at the cost of dressing-room unity.

A powerful South African side loom large at Lord’s and the next week could decide the outcome.

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