Pietersen's end a catalogue of failures
Like watching the bitter divorce of friends, the overwhelming reaction to Kevin Pietersen's autobiography is regret.
It no longer matters who is right or wrong. In such a fight, we all lose. It doesn't matter who gets the toaster.
It shouldn't have ended like this. The finest England batsman of his generation and the finest England team in a lifetime should not have drifted apart to such an extent that they are sniping at each other in a way that does nobody any good.
Of course Pietersen deserves his right of reply. Of course he deserves his chance to clarify the events that appear to have ended his international career. Of course this is a must-read book. It is riveting. It is illuminating. It is audacious. It is outrageous.
But most of all it is sad.
Because talents like Pietersen come along all too rarely. Because cricket, in the UK in particular, is crying out for entertaining, box-office players to win back supporters and inspire the next generation. Because, with a bit more imagination, a bit more humility, a bit more carrot and a bit less stick, Pietersen could still be playing for England.
Instead he is, as he would put it, settling scores, correcting injustices and, understandably, putting his side of the story on the record. That, more than money, will be the motivation behind this book. He feels he is a wronged man. And, up to a point, he might have a point.
It is unlikely many will change their mind about Pietersen as a result of this book. Just as his supporters will find new ammunition for his defence, his detractors will find examples of his perceived divisiveness and self-absorption. However good the book on Manchester United, it won't make Liverpool fans support them.
There is a telling phrase on page 313. "There should be more cricket in these pages."
And he's right. Because it is sad that the man who played some of the best innings in England's Test history - three of his last four centuries (Colombo, Headingley and Mumbai) can only be described as "great" - the man who played the switch-hit against Muttiah Muralitharan in a Test and saw the ball sail for six, the greatest run-scorer in England's international history, the man who played a part in four Ashes triumphs and was man of the tournament when England won their only global trophy is in danger of being remembered as little more than an argumentative ego-maniac with a mistrust of authority who could fall out with his own reflection.
He deserves better than that. And so do Matt Prior who, whatever his perceived faults, was a wonderfully selfless player for England through many of their finest years, and Andy Flower, who seized a poorly-performing group of talented individuals and turned them, just briefly, into the finest team in the world.
Instead Flower and Prior are destroyed in this book - the abuse of Prior is, at times, amusing but soon becomes gross and gratuitous - and, in the coming weeks, the revenge attacks on Pietersen will be no more edifying.
All of it - the book and the ensuing squabbles - is a manifestation of an appalling failure to manage a character who, while demanding, was also brilliant.
Perhaps, in a perfect world, Pietersen could have taken a more subtle approach. He could have corrected what he sees as misinformation but he could have avoided the excessive abuse that sometimes follows.
But Pietersen is not a fellow to do things by half measures. Just as when batting, he reacts to adversity in typically straightforward, bold manner. You might as well try and persuade a lion of the virtues of vegetarianism as preach subtlety to Pietersen.
Among the revelations in the book, Pietersen claims he never issued an ultimatum over the sacking of Peter Moores; he never used the word 'doos' in a message - though he does not deny agreeing with the sentiments - to a South African player (and really, does it matter if he did?); he has sometimes been embarrassed by Piers Morgan's aggressive support; he never much wanted the captaincy and he was not the instigator of the anti-Flower tirade in a team meeting after the defeat in Melbourne. It was, according to KP, Prior.
All of which leads to the question: what did Pietersen really do that was so bad?
Maybe he was brash. Maybe he was clumsy. Maybe he was rather pleased with himself. But none of those are reasons to exclude someone from a team. As he puts it: "I was often naive and sometimes stupid. I was no villain, though."
Maybe, more than anything, he craved acceptance and support and praise. Maybe, in a more benevolent environment, England might have coaxed even more out of him. It is telling that, in psychometric testing, he was rated as an introvert. The brash exterior? A coping mechanism, perhaps.
There are admissions of errors. He admits he was an unsympathetic captain. He admits his overt support of his IPL team, the Delhi Daredevils, was sometimes expressed inappropriately (such as when watching the IPL on TV during a Test against the West Indies at Lord's). He admits to some poor strokes. He admits, on the issue of South Africa and the "quota system", that he "said too much without understanding enough." And he admits trying too hard to be ostentatiously English in his early days.
Perhaps, were he more reflective, he might admit that his seeming inability to move on from upsets and slights - his sense of being wronged when he wanted a few days at home during the Caribbean tour in 2009 is a bizarre recurring theme - was unhelpful and that his failure to work towards building a constructive relationship with Flower was a major fault.
This book should unsettle English cricket, though. If Pietersen's claims are true - and there is an uncomfortable ring of truth around some of them - the culture within the England camp has been destructive for a long time. The failure to manage problems reflects poorly on not just the likes of Hugh Morris - dismissed as "a weak prick" by Pietersen - and Paul Downton - who comes out of this little better - but also on the entire ECB management system. What where they all doing that the situation sunk to this level? It is a damning indictment of their management.
While it would be easy to dismiss Pietersen's claims - you can guarantee the ECB will do so - it would also be a mistake. Pietersen is not the only man from the England dressing room to talk of bullying, to talk of cliques and to talk of an unhealthy culture. He is just the only one brave enough to do it publicly.
And he is not the only one to describe Flower in negative terms. While the Flower who led England to No. 1 might have been focused and determined, he was also capable of loosening the reins sometimes. But by the end of the last Ashes series in Australia, the atmosphere within the England squad was miserable.
Players were intimidated by Flower. He was seen, and not just by Pietersen, as a brooding menace in the dressing room. As a negative influence. As part of the problem. While Pietersen's view of Flower is extreme it is not unique. If the ECB do not know that, they are not communicating with the players effectively.
There are other pertinent points made. Pietersen complains about his medical treatment following an operation on his Achilles tendon in 2009 that he says jeopardised his career. He was, he claims, not given appropriate after-care (he relates a tale of a cab driver helping him into his home following surgery) and was encouraged to return to training far too soon.
Bearing in mind the state Prior was in when he played the Lord's Test against India this year, it seems reasonable to ask some questions of the medical support team.
There are other fascinating insights: the extent - perhaps the psychological extent - of the knee injury sustained in Queenstown in early 2013 - he reckons he has never been more than 75% of the player he once was; that his cricket income "tripled" following his sacking by England and the claim that the ECB tried to persuade the MCC not to select him for the bicentenary game at Lord's. He says he "hated playing for England" for a while.
And, through it all, there are complaints - some will call them 'moans' - about the schedule. About the schedule that pushed Graeme Swann into premature retirement, that pushed Jonathan Trott to a breakdown and which compromises England at every stage. Might some of Pietersen's injuries have been a psychosomatic reaction to the demands of that schedule? A physical expression of his mental exhaustion? A plea for time off from an environment in which he felt unwelcome and, in his words, bullied?
But, incredibly, he still admits to harbouring hopes of a recall. By describing Peter Moores as "a good bloke" and Cook as "a nice man" and "decent at heart," Pietersen may feel he has not burned his bridges with the men who look set to remain in charge for a while yet. And by attempting to diminish Flower and Downton, he may feel he may yet see an ECB set-up where the door is opened once more. It seems unlikely, but so much about Pietersen's life has been.
So, realistically, this is the end. The last word. His final statement.
It should have been a celebration. Instead it is a bitter divorce played out in public. The brightest chapter in England's recent history, and all the characters involved in it, deserved a happier ending. It is not the legacy Flower had in mind.
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo