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October 18, 2012
Kevin Pietersen has been added to England's squad for the forthcoming Test series in India, so bringing to an end one of the most extraordinary stand-offs in the history of the game between a star player and those appointed to rule.
It has taken 73 days for England and Pietersen to patch up their differences since he followed up what should have been one of the most triumphant moments of his career - a stirring century in the Headingley Test against South Africa - by talking of deep and perhaps irreparable divisions with the ECB and some members of the England dressing room.
Once the parties began to talk, the "reintegration process" of Pietersen into the England side took only a couple of days. It just took them an extremely long time to talk.
Pietersen flew back to England from the Champions League in South Africa this week for a series of meetings in Oxford and London with Andy Flower, England's director of cricket, the captain Alastair Cook and key England players with whom his relationship had become increasingly fractious. Even a delayed flight could not prevent the speedy patching up of their differences.
Confirmation that the Cold War was coming to an end came in Colombo a fortnight ago when Giles Clarke, the chairman of the ECB, flanked by a nervous Pietersen, pronounced that it was time for "forgiveness" and a reintegration into "our society."
Hugh Morris, England cricket's managing director, made what followed all sound eminently straightforward, saying: "We were keen that Kevin should hold a series of face-to-face meetings with team management and senior players before the Test squad departs for the UAE and India next week.
"The meetings were constructive and cordial and all outstanding issues have been resolved. All the England players and management are now keen to draw a line under this matter and fully focus on the cricketing challenge that lies ahead in India."
In their desire to impress upon Pietersen that no player, however talented, was greater than the team, England lacked their most destructive batsman and arguably failed to qualify for the World Twenty20 semi-finals in Sri Lanka while he was employed instead as a pundit in a Colombo TV studio.
Considering the political machinations that have gone on behind the scenes, the announcement by Geoff Miller, the chief selector, of Pietersen's return to England's fold could not have sounded more deadpan.
"We are pleased to welcome a player of Kevin's proven international calibre back into the Test squad for such an important Test series," his statement read. "As we anticipate that Ian Bell will return home for the birth of his first child around the time of the second Test in Mumbai, the team will benefit from having an extra batsman in the squad and all players who were originally selected for the tour will fly out as planned next week."
The addition of Pietersen will give England more options at the top of the order, bringing the possibility that he cdould bat at No 3, so allowing Jonathan Trott to be considered as an opening batsman in preference to the two other batsmen originally earmarked for the role, Nick Compton or Joe Root.
Pietersen has been given licence to fulfil his Champions League commitments with Delhi Daredevils before joining up with the squad. He gave his reaction on Twitter: "BOOOOOOOOM!! The happiest days of my career have been playing cricket for ENG. Long may that continue! Thanks everyone for your kind words."
Pietersen returns then, but he returns on very different terms. It could not have been made more apparent that Flower, as England's director of cricket, must be entirely respected, whether in judging how hard he trains or what training top he should wear to do it.
Flower, who had seen the last England coach, Peter Moores, lose his job after Pietersen, as captain, encouraged and then led a rebellion, will now expect unerring loyalty.
The England hierarchy is convinced that their uncompromising stance has brought Pietersen to heel and that their assertion that the team ethic is more important than any glorious individual achievement has been pronounced from the rooftops. Pietersen now has what England see as a final chance to harness his abilities to the demands of the team.
Clarke, in his announcement in Colombo, made it sound as if Pietersen had been released from imprisonment. In that case, we can presume that, in England's mind, he is still tagged, his every move watched for evidence of regression.
Pietersen is back, but who knows for how long? Relationships with several England players remain frosty, particularly with the Nottinghamshire pair of Graeme Swann and Stuart Broad, who captained England in the Twenty20 World Cup in Sri Lanka.
He has played his most exceptional innings when he has felt the adulation of the crowd and acceptance of his fellows. Exuberance, overstatement and an arrogant belief in his own ability are part of his DNA. He must now perform for England in India in an atmosphere, irrespective of the "success" of the integration process, which will not be healed overnight.
It remains to be seen whether he will find inspiration from that or whether England, in taming their most unpredictable talent, may also have damaged him beyond measure.
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