England's Pietersen dilemma August 14, 2012

Piers Morgan stokes Pietersen controversy

Piers Morgan, the former British tabloid editor turned chatshow host, has escalated the conflict between Kevin Pietersen and the England team and officials by alleging that two of his team-mates are linked to the parody Twitter account that Pietersen found so offensive.

The allegations involve two Nottinghamshire players - Stuart Broad, England's Twenty20 captain, and Alex Hales, who took his place at the top of the order in England's T20 side after Pietersen's stand-off with the ECB had led to his enforced retirement from one-day cricket.

The dispute drags on while Pietersen and his advisers pursue negotiations with the ECB in what seems to be an increasingly forlorn hope that he will win a reprieve and be named in England's squad for World Twenty20 in Sri Lanka month when it is announced by Saturday's deadline.

Morgan, a close friend of Pietersen, took to Twitter, where the debate is raging, to accuse the ECB of "double standards" in lecturing the player about the overriding need for team unity while overlooking a lack of team unity elsewhere, in the shape of personal hostility towards Pietersen from some of his team-mates.

What was intended to support Pietersen's contention to ECB officials in ongoing private discussions that he is the victim, not the problem, in the England dressing room, could prove to be counterproductive as the ECB concludes that emotions are running too high to risk naming Pietersen in their World Twenty20 party.

An increasingly fantastical affair has also caused the originator of the Pietersen parody account, Richard Bailey, a 20-something scientist from Nottingham who tweets personally under @Bailsthebadger, to apologise for the offence he has caused and insist that no England players were involved.

ESPNcricinfo's investigations last week had found no evidence that any England player had been actively involved in Baileys' account and passed on all information gathered to senior officials of the ECB.

Indeed, in Broad's case, the evidence is purely circumstantial and Bailey, not a close friend of the England captain but who shares a house with two other Nottinghamshire players, is now deeply embarrassed by an outcome he could barely have imagined.

Morgan's accusation relies upon the fact that Hales was the first follower of the Pietersen parody account. Claims that Broad was involved seem to rest upon a tweet he sent on the same evening that the account was opened saying that he had lent Bailey a pair of socks, therefore putting him in the same place, if not necessarily in the know.

"Put a sock in it," was the tacit response last night of one former England coach, David Lloyd, who used Twitter to argue that it was time to move on as the ECB attempted to stop the affair running out of control.

Pietersen's England future is in the balance after England refused to pick him for the Lord's Test against South Africa despite him appearing a video in which he made himself available for all forms of cricket and publicly apologising for mistakes he may have made.

The ECB, in the person of England managing director Hugh Morris, refused to accept the apology because Pietersen had not explained "derogatory" text messages about members of the England dressing room that he had allegedly sent to South Africa players after the Headingley Test.

Nottinghamshire have a long history of antagonism towards Pietersen. He left the county after his kit was famously thrown off the dressing room balcony at Trent Bridge and the views of many involved at the time - Broad and Hales were not at the county - have not noticeably softened in the meantime.

A third England and Nottinghamshire player, Graeme Swann, was also dismissive of Pietersen's captaincy skills in his autobiography, and his relationship with Pietersen is strained. Pietersen suspected Swann of being behind the account but there is no evidence to support Pietersen's belief that Swann is in anyway involved with this latest brouhaha.

Pietersen's brother, Bryan Pietersen, also took to Twitter to threaten the instigator of the parody account and suggest his phone should be thrown into the River Trent, which runs close to the Nottinghamshire ground.

In the corridors of the ECB, as this affair drags on, rivers are certainly running deep.

David Hopps is the UK editor of ESPNcricinfo