England's Pietersen dilemma August 11, 2012

Selectors consider Pietersen omission


The stability that underpinned England's ascent to No. 1 in the Test rankings is most noticeably absent as they select their side for, arguably, the most important Test they have played since the Ashes were decided at The Oval in 2009.

For several years, the announcement of England's Test squad has been a welcomingly predictable episode. Barring injury or prolonged loss of form, life contained few surprises.

But not this time. This time, as England try to select a team that must beat South Africa at Lord's in order to retain their No. 1 status, the selectors are faced with a major dilemma: do they drop their best player or retain him in the knowledge that his presence risks compromising team spirit. In short, do Kevin Pietersen's positive qualities outweigh his negative ones?

The news that he has exchanged texts with members of the South Africa team comes in the same week that his post-match press conference at Headingley revealed the extent of the tension between the two parties.

There can be, at this stage, no doubt that Pietersen's presence is a distraction in the dressing room. As if the speculation about his possible World Twenty20 inclusion was not enough, there is also doubt about his Test future and his relationship with other players. Whatever the content of text messages sent to players in the South Africa side, the episode has done nothing to diminish the growing division and suspicion building between Pietersen and his England colleagues. Some of them have been ambivalent about Pietersen for some time. This new episode - an episode viewed as a betrayal by some - means that ambivalence is now one of the warmer emotions expressed towards him.

He is respected as a player, though. If there were any doubts over his unrivalled skills - in England, anyway - with the bat, they were dispelled in Leeds. Pietersen was magnificent. He played the sort of innings that would demand inclusion in any team.

That should probably be the bottom line for the selectors. Rather than over-complicating the process with talk of principle or team spirit, the selectors should stick to picking the best 11 individuals and trust in the players' professionalism. Just as Pietersen and Andy Flower managed to work together after the debacle that saw Pietersen sacked as captain - and he was sacked as captain whatever revisionist ECB spin may suggest - and Peter Moores sacked as coach, so the players should be mature enough to work with those with which they may not naturally socialise.

In truth, recent stories amount to little more than playground tittle-tattle. Does it really matter if a few England team-mates laughed at a parody Twitter account or if Pietersen was mildly mocking of his team-mates in a private text message? It is surely more important that everyone within the England dressing room concentrates on winning the Test and does not use issues from the past week to further their own agendas against rival factions.

There is little doubt that the selectors are torn, though. Their appetite for Pietersen-related baggage is more than sated. If they could afford to be rid of him, they would surely take that chance.

There are faults on both sides. Pietersen has a legitimate gripe by complaining about leaks emanating from the ECB and it is hard not to wonder if, in a more sophisticated dressing room, he might not have been managed better. Surely Mike Brearley, for example, might have coaxed the best from him as he did such diverse characters as Sir Ian Botham, Geoffrey Boycott and Phil Edmonds. Perhaps a little more carrot and a little less stick might have worked wonders on Pietersen?

England, it should be noted, have won without Pietersen before. He played little role in the Ashes success of 2009 and none in the recent ODI victories over Australia. He is no more irreplaceable than any other England player of the past and, just as West Indies managed without Sobers and Australia managed without Bradman, England will manage without Pietersen.

He is not easy to replace, though. With Ravi Bopara still absent for personal reasons - an episode that may have damaged his own Test career irreversibly - there is no obvious replacement for Pietersen. Jonny Bairstow, fresh from his century against Australia A, might be considered, so might Eoin Morgan, who has the character if not the technique to flourish at this level.

Chris Woakes is a more rounded solution. If Pietersen were dropped, Ian Bell, James Taylor and Matt Prior could shuffle up a position with Woakes coming in at No. 7. It is asking a great deal of anyone to come into such an important game against such high-quality opposition but Woakes has the ability, with bat and with ball, to shine. Just as importantly, he has a rock solid character that will not be flustered by the occasion. England will never have a moment of worry about the ego of Woakes.

Graeme Swann is sure to be named in the team on Thursday - omitting him at Leeds was a huge error of judgement - with a late choice required over which of Steven Finn, Graham Onions and Tim Bresnan plays alongside Stuart Broad and James Anderson. All are likely to be named in the squad, with home ground advantage likely to favour Finn, despite a disappointing display at Leeds.

Whatever is revealed in Sunday's squad announcement, it seems we are coming to the end of the Pietersen story. In the long term, we may reflect on the episode as one of the great wasted opportunities in the history of England cricket. Talents like Pietersen appear rarely. That the ECB have failed to handle him - a man who must be considered one of their most precious resources - does not reflect well on them.

Make no mistake, though. However much England cricket misses Pietersen over the coming weeks and months, he will miss it more. His premature departure, at this point seemingly inevitable, will leave him many years to reflect upon the mistakes that have led him so far along this path. He will surely come to regret that he has allowed his pride and a series of petty incidents to have built up into a career-threatening scenario.

Pietersen might also reflect long and hard on his own role in his alienation. As Oscar Wilde almost said, to fall out with one team may be considered unfortunate, but to fall out with Natal, Nottinghamshire, Hampshire and England? You do not have to be a genius to work out the common denominator.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • John on August 11, 2012, 21:11 GMT

    I'm not sure if anything further has gone on behind the scenes. If not , it would seem strange to trust a player for the 1st 2 tests but not the 3rd test , especially after his 2st inns in the last one. If he is not picked then we must presume that further issues have happened.

  • John on August 11, 2012, 21:11 GMT

    @Sunil Prasad on (August 11 2012, 16:31 PM GMT) I thought (acc to many comms on here) it was the start of England's downfall after he retired from ODIs/T20s. I think we're unbeaten in 8 or 9 since he retired and I know there will sure be times when we struggle without him but we're not doing so bad in ODIs/T20s so far

  • John on August 11, 2012, 21:11 GMT

    @Jim1207 on (August 11 2012, 15:19 PM GMT) I wouldn't put the blame on KP if Eng don't level the series. Who actually knows what is said in the dressing room besides the players and coaching staff? Also what are the concerns/problems he raised exactly?

  • Malinda on August 11, 2012, 21:02 GMT

    No one started this situation for KP but only him self may be he's thinking of playing for southafrica instead to make him self in to head lines AGAIN!

  • Dre on August 11, 2012, 19:58 GMT

    None of us for sure knows what is going on in the dressing room. What we do know is that KP thinks "its not easy being me." Of course he is of high value n a common ground should be found BUT I think the same thing would be done for Ian Bell (the most complete batsman in the Eng team), Trott (the solution to Eng long time #3 prob), Anderson (their leading quick), Prior (equally as irreplaceable since he is arguably the best test keeper-bat in the world) and Swann (does Eng have a better spinner...who can field? (sorry Monty). If we the fans, KP, or the Eng management feel that KP is the only Eng player who is mighty tough to replace n thus needs "special attention" there should be a re-think. Just so u know, Bell is my favorite Eng batsman n credit to him how he selflessly opened in the ODI's vs a good Aus side, in the midst of the KP drama n was very successful. Still he goes a bit under-appreciated. KP is a game changer but not more precious than Bell n others I hav mentioned.

  • Michael on August 11, 2012, 19:37 GMT

    he is a south african!!!!! born in durban

  • david on August 11, 2012, 19:02 GMT

    you got to be joking leaving KP out of such a important game.george are you stoking the fire or is this a serious piece. has the feelings between him and some of the others got that bad, i know KPs a tit but this is beyond a joke. lets get this game over then let him go his way. great player but his attitude stinks.

  • ravi on August 11, 2012, 19:00 GMT

    Its end of ENGLISH cricket if its and end to pitersen

  • Terry on August 11, 2012, 18:58 GMT

    My opinions on Pieterson the criketer and the man are somewhat different. As much as I owuld love to see him continue in the English side I believe his actions have made this impossible. He has become a disruption to this team. As has been suggested his position should be taken up by Woakes alhtough it is a pity Tayor was not given a run in the side earlier becasue i fear Taylor batting at five with only one test innings to his name is what is a crucial test for England is taking a risk. But even if ngland do not manage to win the last test, by making this move, it will tell all professionals out thee that this is a team game and no one is above the team.

  • Michael on August 11, 2012, 18:48 GMT

    Not a nice situation for England fans to observe, and both sides are at fault. Those who are suggesting Pietersen should be allowed to do basically whatever he wants because he is a cricket "genius" have a very limp definition in mind of that particular term. Bradman and Sobers were geniuses. Tendulkar and Warne are or were by comparison just very good. KP? In comparison he has a genius only for starting arguments, as Mr. Dobell implies. However, there's no question that England have managed him badly for four years, ever since the ridiculous decision to make him captain and then force him out from the same post a few months later. KP may not be bigger than the England team, but he may well be too big a problem for the limited management abilities of the ECB to handle.

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