England in disarray as tour selection is postponed over Kevin Pietersen row

World T20 preparations in jeopardy as Pietersen row leads to delay in naming squad for India

England yesterday postponed the selection of the squad for their Test tour of India. It was too late, however, to delay the distinct impression that the wheels are coming off.

The announcement of the party for what remains one of the most demanding of all series will be made on Tuesday morning, instead of today as was originally intended. Although no reason was formally given, the overwhelming probability is that Kevin Pietersen is at the root of the change.

It is difficult to tell whether this means he is closer to rejoining the dressing room or further away, and it is highly likely from the resounding official silence that those involved in what are believed to be constantly continuing talks are not much nearer to knowing either. The only quasi-official advice was not to hedge any bets. What is certain is the unprecedented nature of events.

Tour parties have been beset by controversy before, most notably when Basil D'Oliveira was first omitted and then included in the party to tour South Africa in late 1968. But at least then the selectors were able to make a decision, universally scorned though it was.

Pietersen has completely dominated the cricketing agenda since the start of August when he made a blistering 149 in the second Test at Headingley and almost immediately expressed the disaffection with the dressing room that soon led to his being dropped.

Discussions between the player and various members of the England management have been taking place intermittently. If there has been progress it has clearly not been sufficient for him to resume his England career.

The affair has overshadowed preparations for the World Twenty20, which starts in Sri Lanka next week, and has made planning for the tour of India almost equally difficult. While the resolute silence might not have helped, the feeling that England are in a state of disorder is hard to dispel.

One of the selectors, Andy Flower, the team coach, flies to Sri Lanka today with the T20 squad, so can hardly be part of the final discussions about Pietersen and India. It remains possible that Pietersen could be left out of the tour with discussions between the parties continuing but this would leave the additional problem of his current central contract ending on 30 September.

That will make him a free agent and it is well known that suitors from the Australian Big Bash T20 tournament are lining up. He already has a lucrative contract in the Indian Premier League.

If there are points of principle at stake, Pietersen's importance to the team as a player will be overlooked by management. But without him they are looking at a side which will have to contain one new opener following Andrew Strauss's retirement and would also have two Test batting novices. There could be only one outcome.

Nobody seems to know which way this will go now and nobody except those doing the talking is aware of the demands that each side has made. But the feeling in the dressing room against , that they have put up with him for too long and cannot take it any longer, should not be underestimated.

There was a suggestion, also not rebuffed, that the selectors need more time to ponder certain other roles in the party for India, such as the identity of the new opener and the support spin bowlers. But it seems stretching it to think that after a full season of watching players perform in the County Championship they do not know their preferred men.

These may be highly unusual circumstances but in so many ways it is like watching the England of the old days.

 

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