England's Pietersen dilemma October 3, 2012

Being tough on KP

The power struggle between the ECB and Kevin Pietersen about the value systems of English cricket will only have been justified if it results in a happy ending

Those in charge of England cricket are convinced that Kevin Pietersen has been taught a lesson he will never forget as he returns to the England fold. In the words of the ECB chairman, Giles Clarke, he has one final chance to earn the forgiveness that is the very fabric of a civilised world.

As Clarke delivered his statement in a Colombo hotel with all the gravitas he could muster, he made it sound as if Pietersen had just been released from a lengthy prison sentence. Condign punishment had been exacted and it was now time to try to reintegrate him into "our society". It was an interesting choice of words. This power struggle, at its core, has been about the value systems of English cricket.

But what exactly did Pietersen do to incur England's wrath? On the grounds of confidentiality, that must remain unspoken. "We aren't here for archaeology," Clarke pronounced after it was asked of both men, perfectly properly, how Pietersen had got into this mess in the first place.

Archaeology was an appropriate image for the last few months, in which both Pietersen's career and England's World Twenty20 challenge have been in ruins.

At least England, and Pietersen, are digging themselves into a hole no longer. We have a framework in which we are told that both sides can move forward, a framework that Andy Flower, the team director, and the ECB board unanimously support. No one should doubt that Flower retains control and Pietersen is on probation.

It is Flower who is now in charge of the integration process, Flower who is in charge of suppressing the bad and seeking out the good. In this uneasy truce, England's team director has not lost one iota of his power - as Clarke made clear when he insisted as vehemently as he could muster that Flower will remain in his position until at least the end of the 2015 World Cup.

There is no good reason with goodwill on all sides why Pietersen should not be added to the England Test party to tour India. But the stand-off has stretched over nearly two months and, in that time, great damage has been done. England have lacked their most destructive batsman and arguably they failed to qualify for the World Twenty20 semi-finals as a result.

In a previous era, as Pietersen's relationship with the England dressing room became strained, there would probably have been a bit of a barney at the back of the Headingley pavilion. The following day, life would have resumed as something approaching normality and any black eye suffered by one of the protagonists would have been explained away as a ball that had reared up in the nets. It might not have achieved much, and it would certainly have not been very PC, but it would have been over quickly.

Nowadays, to move on - in a mutually constructive process naturally - it takes emotional apologies on YouTube, the mass interviewing of interested parties, involvement of agents, the to-ing and fro-ing of lawyers, emergency board meetings, reports, preliminary and final, "reintegration" processes stretching to several pages and who knows what else.

But what exactly did Pietersen do? If it has been accepted by both sides that he did not send derogatory text messages about Andrew Strauss to the South Africans, or reveal tactical secrets, what exactly did he do?

Archaeologists a few thousand years hence may study Pietersen's skull and have the power to conclude that in the summer of 2012 his ego had expanded like few cricketing egos ever seen before. The inescapable conclusion is that Pietersen had become so arsey that people - and we can assume that Flower and several influential senior players were prominent among them - had simply had enough.

"Archaeologists a few thousand years hence may study Pietersen's skull and have the power to conclude that in the summer of 2012 his ego had expanded like few before"

Great players - or, in Pietersen's case, players occasionally touched by greatness - can be difficult. They can also be inspirational. They dance to a different tune. "What should we do about Kevin?" has been a refrain throughout his career. The extraordinary self-confidence that can make him so gloriously successful on the field can occasionally make him taxing off it. That much has always been known.

In the summer of 2012, when he could not play the whole of the IPL or pick-and-mix his England games (a quite ludicrous belief that he could behave like an international tennis player), and was refused licence to reduce his involvement in England's highly disciplined training regime, things began to grate.

There are places on the England domestic circuit that he at times finds, shall we say, a little too provincial for his tastes, especially when the weather is churlish, the excitement is lacking and there seems no end to England's programme of one-day internationals.

The feeling took hold - and took hold among strong-minded men not given to fantasy - that the prime reason Pietersen was playing for England was that he needed to maximise his commercial appeal. He was the one South Africa-born player in England's side who had not persuaded his colleagues that he had true pride in the shirt. There was too much obsession with money.

"It's tough being me playing for England," he famously complained in a media conference after the Headingley Test against South Africa, in which he made a brilliant century. Strauss, his captain at the time, could not believe what he was hearing. "It's even tougher being us," was the private rejoinder of some of his team-mates.

Flower, who had seen the last England coach, Peter Moores, lose his job after Pietersen, as captain, encouraged and then led a rebellion, must have sensed familiar danger signs. What was it Flower had said in Kandy barely 24 hours earlier when asked if Pietersen was a good man? "I think we all have good and bad in us, all of us."

The England hierarchy is convinced that their uncompromising stance has left Pietersen shaken, that their assertion that the team ethic is more important than any glorious individual achievement has been sounded loudly. Pietersen now has the chance, once and for all, to harness his talents to the demands of the team. That it is his last chance could not be more certain.

He is also available for England for all forms of the game, his ambitions to play the whole of IPL abandoned, and if he vacillates again over where his priorities lie, his new contract will give him little room for manoeuvre. The ECB will congratulate itself that it has quelled a rebellion. But resisting the IPL in the medium term is unsustainable and they know it. If there is no accommodation with India, other stand-offs will follow.

In their desire to remind Pietersen of collective values, England's ambitions are to be lauded. Cricket has always required a delicate balance of individual achievement within a team setting, part of the reason it remains so engrossing.

It is just the delay that is so hard to stomach. England, for sure, had some important cricket on their mind when Pietersen intimated at Headingley that the world was against him and Strauss' resignation as England's Test captain did not make closure any easier - but a bit of multi-tasking would not have gone amiss.

The only conclusion is that England wanted to make Pietersen sweat and they probably secretly wanted to see how the team would do without him. Now they know. Pietersen is back, who knows for how long. Only if history relates that everybody lived happily ever after will this stand-off, a rather overblown stand-off when all is said and done, prove justified.

David Hopps is the UK editor of ESPNcricinfo

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