Kevin Pietersen last night apologised for sending inappropriate text messages about his captain and coach to England's opponents. If his belated contrition is deemed acceptable by the management the way might be open for the resumption of an international career which looked to have stalled permanently.
But that remains far from certain. The England and Wales Cricket Board said last night that they were still in dialogue with Pietersen. There is also the overwhelming matter of regaining the trust of a dressing room he could be said to have betrayed. Friendship may be out of the question.
The lack of an explanation for the texts, bizarre even in the unfettered world of the social networks, caused Pietersen's dropping from the team for the third Test against South Africa which starts at Lord's tomorrow. During the second Test in Leeds he is reported to have texted South Africa players with comments about Andrew Strauss, the England captain, and Andy Flower, their coach.
Strauss appears to have been taken aback by events. In an interview with Sky Sports screened last night, he said: "I've always got on with Kevin. I've tried to be honest with him, he's been honest with me.
"That's why this has all been a bit of a surprise to me. I think the discontent Kevin had with the board over his contract situation wasn't one that the players got involved in and I didn't if I'm honest.
"But over the last week I have had to get involved because there have been issues a little bit more central to his relationship with other players and our ability to perform in the middle."
Strauss dealt with what has become the nub of the controversy, which began with Pietersen's odd post-match interviews at Leeds when he refused to confirm that the Lord's Test would not be his last and led to the text revelations. The captain's observations indicate that there is no easy way back.
"Frankly, I'm a big believer in not airing dirty laundry in public," Strauss said. "It's one of our core values in our team that what goes on in the dressing room stays in the dressing room. Any time anyone has fallen foul of that they have been disciplined and rightly so. It's about mutual respect and trust and that is a core issue in resolving this."
While it is too late for Pietersen to be restored to action at Lord's tomorrow it is possible that he will be named on Saturday in England's squad for the World Twenty20. But one apology, drawn out as if from a rock face, may yet not be enough to remake a career.
The unusual expression of regret, if that is what it was, is merely the latest turn in one of the most troubling episodes in the history of the England team. Pietersen has already climbed down from a series of demands which had put a severe strain on his relationship with Flower and Strauss. He had sought guarantees about rest and his full-time participation in the Indian Premier League having already retired from all forms of limited-overs cricket because of its requirements. In a complete change of heart on Saturday night, he issued a video in which he renounced his previous stance. "I'm not going anywhere, I love playing for England," he said.
A day later, after declining to deal with the issue of the texts and whether he did or did not suggest to the South Africans how they might dismiss Strauss, he was dropped. The apology, while not wholly confirmed, was mentioned on Five Live last night by the former England captain Alec Stewart and prompted immediate speculation about Pietersen's return. It is too early to be sure of that but the issue is completely overshadowing England's preparations.
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