'Let down' Pietersen heads for IPL
The 29 runs that Kevin Pietersen added to his overnight score against Leicestershire, to end on a magisterial and undefeated 355, could be the last he ever scores in first-class cricket. Pietersen will fly out to India on Friday, to fulfill his obligations for Sunrisers Hyderabad in the latter stages of the IPL, after Andrew Strauss confirmed that the batsman did not figure in England's plans.
Having been told to go back to county cricket and score runs by the incoming ECB chairman, Colin Graves, two months ago, Pietersen will feel "let down in the way he's been treated", according to Alec Stewart, Surrey's director of cricket. "He's given up a £250,000 contract to play in the IPL, he's done what's been asked of him and now unfortunately from Kevin's point of view the door has been shut," Stewart said.
Stewart also suggested that Surrey could feel disappointed with the ECB. "To an extent I think the club could feel a little bit let down or short-changed," he said. "If you go back five years when he left Hampshire, he didn't have a county and the ECB said to us will you take Kevin Pietersen and we did. So, we helped the ECB to therefore help England, which, as a county, is our duty. Then, on the back of Colin Graves's comments we've re-signed him. We know he's going to help us through scoring runs, and also try and help England."
Stewart, who had been one of the contenders for the England director of cricket role awarded to Strauss, said that he would not have ruled out a return for Pietersen.
"I'd want to be able to pick from everyone available. I believe that England should be picking their best players and that would include Kevin Pietersen," he said. "Part of management is managing difficult players and difficult situations.
"It's going to be a very tough summer and I, personally, would have said: Right, we've got a good middle order at the minute. Ballance, Bell and Root are playing exceptionally well. Kevin, you're doing what we asked you to do, which is come and play county cricket, come and score runs. If you continue to do that, should there be an injury, a loss or form or a reason to make a change, you're very much in the frame. No guarantees, but you're very much in the frame.
"They haven't gone down that route, but I respect what Andrew has said and what he has done because he has to be his own man starting in this new role."
Stewart contacted Pietersen after news broke on Monday evening that he had been told he was highly unlikely to play for England again. "He was disappointed. We exchanged messages last night so I was aware that it had happened. He wanted to play for England, he was desperate to play for England. He thought the door had been opened from the incoming chairman."
Stewart also reiterated that he has had no issues with Pietersen in the Surrey dressing room over his five years involvement with the club.
"When he has been here he's been a breath of fresh air," he said. "I always say I only judge people how I find them. He's got a track record of upsetting people in other dressing rooms, or being upset in other dressing rooms. But when he's been in our dressing room we've had no problems with him.
"Everyone deals with people in certain ways. I'm not saying the way we do it here is perfect by any shape of the imagination. We do it a certain way and we've been rewarded with some fantastic batting.
"There's been a breakdown between Kevin and various parties or various people at the ECB, which means the decision has not been reversed and Kevin Pietersen is a former England player."
On Tuesday, Pietersen was only left two runs short of claiming the all-time Surrey record in first-class cricket because Matt Dunn, who contributed five to a tenth-wicket partnership of 139, was dismissed. "It was one of the best innings I've seen," Stewart said. "He's probably the only player in world cricket who could do that."
Surrey may feel they were overdue such a performance after Pietersen's mediocre spell in Twenty20 for the club last season, when he was dismissed 12 times without passing 39.
"He's fitter, that's all. His knee's back to being fit so he can stand in the field, he can bat for a day and a half with no issues and he can rock up the next day too, whereas last year he couldn't," Stewart said. "Also I think he'd admit that his mind wasn't as it should be because of what had been going on with his England career.
"From the Big Bash through to what we've seen yesterday he's playing as well as he's ever played. In the nets he hits the ball as cleanly as ever. People have to understand that it's nothing to do with his cricket. Everyone still agrees that he's still good enough to play but there's the trust issue which obviously the ECB believe there is no trust between the two of them so they feel they can't select him."
After Pietersen's IPL stint, Stewart hopes he will return for two more Championship games - against Lancashire at the Kia Oval and Leicestershire, who will hope they do not encounter him in this mood again, at Grace Road - before his stint in the Caribbean Premier League. But nothing is certain.
"Whether we see him play again for Surrey, I hope so, but it's got to be right for us and it's got to be right for Kevin," Stewart said. "I hope it's not the last first-class innings we'll see in a Surrey shirt."
Tim Wigmore is a freelance journalist and author of Second XI: Cricket in its Outposts