Kevin Pietersen's international career was heading to a dramatic close last night. In an unexpected denouement to the second Test against South Africa, he revealed that the final game of the series at Lord's next week could be his last.
Pietersen, who played one of his greatest innings for England on Saturday which could easily have changed the course of the series, refused to give details. But it is clear that his relationship in the dressing room is at a low ebb and that he is in urgent talks with the England and Wales Cricket Board.
"It's tough being me in this dressing room, playing for England, it's tough," he said. "It's absolutely 100 per cent not about money. There are three things I'm discussing but there are other things that need to be sorted."
Pietersen conceded that three of the points under discussion in negotiations with the ECB were his desires to spend more time with his family, to play an entire Indian Premier League programme next year and in the World Twenty20 in Sri Lanka. In a 10-minute press conference at the end of the Test, which ended in a predictable though exciting draw, there was an element of "poor me" in his demeanour.
"There are other points I'm trying to sort out in the dressing room," he said. "The family thing is just another point but there a lot of other more important issues but as I say after the next Test we will know a lot more."
Given his stance, it is difficult to see how England can pick him for the deciding Test, although England need to win to level the series and retain their No 1 ranking.
England's captain, Andrew Strauss, said: "I hope the Kevin issue isn't going to be a distraction. We want as few distractions as possible in making sure we win this third Test. You want to take whatever is happening off the field in your private life or anywhere and put it to one side to concentrate on playing a Test match for England."
The players seem to have signed a pledge of omerta but it is not difficult to discern that they are fed up. They want Pietersen in the team because of his runs but under Strauss and the coach, Andy Flower, there is no room for special treatment for stars.
Asked if the Lord's Test could be his international swansong, Pietersen said: "It would be a huge shame. I love playing Test cricket for England but we'll see. For me the saddest part about all this is that the spectators just love watching me play and I just love playing for England, but the politics is what I have to deal with personally."
England have been increasingly frustrated by Pietersen in recent months. There is no question about his commitment on the field, and he remains their hardest trainer and most spectacular player, as his magnificent innings at Headingley last Saturday demonstrated. It might have been saying: "Well, do without me if you can."
It was Pietersen to whom England turned yesterday when they seemed to have a sniff of winning the second Test and levelling the series. They ran through South Africa's second innings in the afternoon to such an extent that the tourists themselves thought they also had a chance of securing a win.
Extraordinarily, it was Pietersen who made the first inroads into South Africa's batting order to set up an improbable scenario. He took the first three wickets to fall with his occasional off-spin, which opened the way for Stuart Broad.
Bowling more purposefully than he has all summer, Broad took five wickets in 37 balls. This reduced South Africa to 258 for 9, at which point they declared. Their captain, Graeme Smith, sensed that if he could induce England to chase the target in 39 overs they might also lose wickets.
Pietersen hit three fours in the first over but shortly after he holed out and England's loss of three further wickets effectively ended the pursuit and the match. Smith went deep into the final hour, partly trying to conjure a win but also to make a point about who was in charge of proceedings.
They shook hands on the draw at 7.30pm and 10 minutes later Pietersen put his future in doubt. Despite Strauss's hopes, the next few days will be dominated by the affair. Pietersen knows this as well. "You can speculate all you want, you always do every day of my life," he said. It is impossible to see how the dressing room can be at ease, although as Strauss pointed out, Pietersen did not seem to be affected by outside issues as he propelled himself to glory last Saturday.
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