Former England captain Andrew Strauss has attempted to calm the troubled waters surrounding the release of Kevin Pietersen's autobiography by suggesting that the "madness" is damaging English cricket.
Strauss, whose international career ended amid the rancour of Pietersen's suspension after texting members of the South Africa team in 2012, took a familiar diplomatic position in trying to steer the debate away from "rumour, innuendo and opinion" on the day that KP: The Autobiography went on sale. He defended the record of Andy Flower, the coach so thoroughly traduced in Pietersen's book, and expressed concern about the effect on the current side, led by his successor, Alastair Cook.
"A lot of this that's going on at the moment is madness," Strauss told Sky Sports. "There's been a lot of rumour, innuendo and opinion. I prefer to stick with the facts. All this tit-for-tat stuff, I don't think really helps the England cricket team.
"The victim here really isn't Kevin Pietersen, or Andy Flower or Matt Prior or anyone; it's actually the England cricket team and Alastair Cook and Peter Moores who've got to try to take the side forward. That, to me, is the disappointing thing about this whole episode."
Pietersen has been staunchly critical of his former team-mate Prior, who he accused of being central of a bullying culture within the England side during Flower's reign. He describes Flower as a "Mood Hoover" and a "dreadful coach" in the book, suggesting that he had allowed a damaging clique to grow within the dressing room "like a bad weed".
Strauss, however, was quick to defend the man with whom he formed a strong bond during three successful years, during which time England rose to No. 1 in the Test rankings.
"Andy Flower is a guy of complete integrity. If you look at his record as coach, it's second to none," Strauss said. "That idea that the team should come first was central to what we did, and something Andy Flower was very conscious of and protective over. Anyone who was testing that would be dealt with accordingly, and rightly so."
The relationship between Strauss and Pietersen was strained by allegations during the 2012 Test series against South Africa that Pietersen had sent "derogatory texts" about his captain. Pietersen subsequently apologised to Strauss and was reintegrated into the team - but earlier this year, Strauss was overheard referring to Pietersen as a "c***" from the back of the commentary box during Sky's coverage of the MCC bicentenary match at Lord's.
Strauss succeeded Pietersen as captain after the latter was removed along with the coach, Peter Moores, in 2009. Flower was promoted from his position as batting coach and Pietersen suggests in his autobiography that it suited Strauss' ambitions for the two to get along. "Strauss was clever enough to play the long game," he writes. "He would have to get close to Flower if he wanted longevity as captain, and getting tough on me would earn him brownie points. If you have longevity, you have the ECB in your pocket."
Despite the grievances aired in the book, Pietersen has continued to reiterate his desire to play for England again. In an interview with the Evening Standard newspaper, he suggested that Flower's continued role with the ECB and his relationship with the chairman, Giles Clarke, were the main impediments to realising that ambition.
"What would have to happen for me to be recalled by England? Clearly, the boss would have to go," Pietersen said. "Clarke would have to go, and I've been hearing that could happen in the next few months. That's all hearsay, you never know. If there is a change at the top, there is potential, but we will wait and see.
"Giles pulls a lot of strings. In terms of cricket, I believe Andy Flower pulls a lot of strings too. He has Giles Clarke in his pocket."