Pietersen's campaign to swing the voters
The nationwide tour of Division Two Championship grounds that Kevin Pietersen hopes will propel him into the gratifying glare of an Ashes Test series has begun. Reviews for the opening matinee performance in Cardiff will be mixed. He made 19, and looked in decent order in doing so, but he recorded Surrey's lowest score of an untroubled day, not the sort of score that smacks of unstoppable momentum.
"Ni-ni-ni 19, 19, ni-19 19." The scoreboard as Pietersen departed might have lacked the gravity, or the impact, of Paul Hardcastle's protest song against the Vietnam War, 30 years ago now, but when Pietersen edged Craig Meschede to slip, driving confidently at a delivery that might have nibbled away a little, his ambitions briefly took on a similar sense of synthesised stutter.
Meschede, a young South African on a season's loan from Somerset, had made a name for himself, except that he has not been in South Wales long enough for anybody to be entirely confident how to pronounce it. There are around 56 versions, the same number as he had first-class wickets. The preferred pronunciation has two syllables: Mesh-da. If it has not seared itself into KP's soul, it might have singed it a little.
Immediately upon Pietersen's dismissal, social media sprang into action, encapsulating the great divide that will forever surround the most flamboyant England batsman of his generation. Crowing that KP looked in marvellous touch gave way as he returned to the pavilion to personal slights.
Fifteen months have passed since Paul Downton judged him persona non grata in English cricket, Downton's mishandling of the situation has brought about his removal, and the divide between supporters and detractors remains as wide as ever.
It is appropriate that Pietersen's attempted comeback is taking place in the middle of an election campaign because it is all intensely political. When he took a hundred off the students of Oxford last week, the sort of thing that good county batsmen tend to do in their sleep, in cricket's Spin Room one observer even ventured that it just showed that England could have won the World Cup if only they had picked him.
Cardiff was the first vaguely meaningful test. Not far sort of 3,000 wandered across Sophia Gardens, the spring borders in glorious bloom, enticed by free admission and a chance to judge whether Pietersen could add impetus to his comeback attempt or whether, in England terms, he was merely a king of oblivion. The reception was a warm one, interspersed with a few cheers. He has become a popular anti-authoritarian figure and, as a new regime at the ECB seriously seeks to reconnect the game with the public, it is a self-imposed problem they could have done without.
The irony could hardly be overlooked that a century fell to the Sri Lankan, Kumar Sangakkara, a batsman who can hardly wait to call time on a prolific Test career, and while away the whole of next season at Surrey, rather than the batsman who needed it as evidence.
Sangakkara: a world-class batsman comfortable with his CV; Pietersen, an equally world-class batsman bent upon rewriting one. Steve Davies, whose decision to abandon wicketkeeping last season, as good as ended his own England chances then added another one. His game looks as mature as it ever has as he batted alongside Sangakkara in a stand of 213 in 51 overs. Most of the crowd remained until a chilly evening began to set in.
Glamorgan's supporters fear that their seam attack is lightweight this season and the fact that Surrey racked up 363 for 3 did nothing to allay their fears. Their most potent bowler, the Australian Michael Hogan, is absent because of hamstring trouble. Meschede, a lively allrounder with most pedigree in one-day cricket, is not a permanent deal; Andy Carter has been loaned by Nottinghamshire for only a month. David Lloyd has only seven first-class wickets.
Carter memorably grumbled as he left for Glamorgan that just because he had suffered injuries, that didn't mean he was injury prone. Pietersen could try something similar: just because he has occasional strops, it doesn't mean he is stroppy.
He looked in bountiful form, bringing oohs and ahs when he easefully deposited Carter to the midwicket boundary, but a top-edged hook was the first sign of vulnerability before Meschede beat him on the drive.
Pietersen's ambitions should not be rubbished. Great players have a right to rage against the dying of the light, especially in Pietersen's case when the candle has been extinguished by an ECB-inscribed snuffer. He has forced his quest to be taken seriously, the odds on an Ashes return tumbling from 25-1 to 2-1. Surrey players always accept the chance to speak well of him. But the PR company for the Caribbean Premier League still presumes he will be heading to St Lucia Zouks.
This is an extraordinary phase in the rich history of Championship cricket. There must be thousands of brusque comments made in Yorkshire every day, and most of them cause only light bruising at most, but when Colin Graves, the incoming ECB chairman, pointedly responded that if Pietersen had England ambitions he had better start by playing some Championship cricket - more a statement of the obvious than anything else - it turned into into an invitation to dream.
In less than three months, on July 8, the first Ashes Test takes place on this very ground. The big Grandstand which gives this ground a lopsided look, will be packed and the excitement will be palpable. He has arrived early, and imagined how it would feel. It would be remarkable if he was back for the real thing, a chapter in the history of England cricket that few could imagine.
David Hopps is the UK editor of ESPNcricinfo @davidkhopps