There was something inevitable about Kevin Pietersen’s departure from the England tour. For a start, he has been for far too long out of the limelight, which is not a place where stars reside.
But as soon as he suffered discomfort in his right knee at Queenstown three weeks ago, was clearly suffering in the first Test against New Zealand, began wearing a knee brace in training – at which point England’s management said everything was alright – we should have known the game was up.
Much is brilliant about the way England manage their players but the constant obfuscation about injuries is an enduring mystery. The fact that Pietersen played two Test matches after first complaining of the injury does not look entirely appropriate now that he is out of cricket, officially, for between six and eight weeks.
The question can be legitimately asked about its extent and its seriousness, whether indeed it may threaten his career. Pietersen is already out of the decisive match of this series and the Indian Premier League, which will cost him serious money.
The eight-week limit put on his rest and rehabilitation period takes him to the eve of the first Test of the home series against New Zealand. It was an open secret that he may well have missed that – though having returned from the IPL – because of the sheer amount of heavy-duty Test cricket coming up. Now it would seem to be the height of folly to rush him back.
England will be the other side of rather keen to have Pietersen back in the team for the start of the Ashes series on 10 July. Preferably, they would want him for the Champions Trophy lasting for three weeks in June but they would sacrifice everything, as would Pietersen, for him to be there against Australia.
The nature of this injury is as yet uncertain. In its official statement, the England and Wales Cricket Board said that scans confirmed bone bruising and possible cartilage damage to the kneecap. His return from the tour is “for further investigations and specialist review”.
For all that anybody can be sure, it may be no more than a wise, if slightly belated, precaution. It is an eon since cartilage damage in a sportsman elicited glum shakes of the head and the production of manuals on what to do with the rest of your life.
The nation was kept enthralled in the early 1950s by the state of Denis Compton’s kneecap, which now resides in the museum at Lord’s. It eventually ended his career but he was 38 at the time.
More recently, when sophisticated surgery had long since made it possible for sportsmen to resume their careers after a knee injury, Michael Vaughan eventually had to retire after several surgical intrusions did not quite lead to lasting recovery.
Pietersen has fought back from serious injury before, most notably after the Achilles surgery in 2009 which forced him to miss most of that summer’s Ashes series. A post-operation infection dragged him to a low point but his determination eventually pulled him through.
On this tour he has been a faintly distant figure. It has been well established, because everybody insists it is so, that he is fully integrated in the dressing room after the cataclysmic events of last summer. Then he was dropped from the team in a dispute with management over his treatment – part of it, ironically, concerning his participation in the IPL – and later had a series of meetings with senior players before he was reinstated ahead of the tour to India.
Much of the episode has still not been satisfactorily explained, certainly not the disparaging text messages he is alleged to have sent to South African players about Andrew Strauss, then England’s captain, during the Test series between the sides.
He has barely spoken in public since and his approach to the press he once curried has bordered on the surly. Nothing wrong with that, of course, though it is patently obvious that he has not fulfilled usual media obligations. When Graeme Swann left this tour a fortnight ago he obligingly fielded questions about his elbow injury and his future.
Pietersen’s injury and his departure were not revealed until late at night in New Zealand, meaning that he could not speak. It was probably not planned like that but it felt like it. He departs in silence and we do not know when he will return.