Kevin Pietersen close to England recall but still far from regaining trust
Lawyers on brink of an agreement that will allow batsman to apologise and return for India series
Sometime today, if he can find time in his busy schedule, Kevin Pietersen will be re-engaged as an England cricketer. He will apologise for his recent misdeeds, doubtless shake hands with the head honcho from the England and Wales Cricket Board and talk longingly about his future.
Anyone who thinks that will be the end of the matter neither knows the man nor the level of his recalcitrant behaviour in the past two months. As late as yesterday afternoon in Sri Lanka the legal niceties had still not been finished which would pave the way to Pietersen's statement of contrition alongside Giles Clarke, the ECB chairman, and subsequent reinstatement in the dressing room.
The one does not so easily lead to the other in any case. It is the first step. After that Pietersen still has to find a way to make his colleagues trust him again, to persuade them to believe that he is one of them. Or if not one of them, not against them either.
On Twitter yesterday, Pietersen seemed to be in chipper mood, as he has been during his television appearances at the World Twenty20. In reply to one of his followers about the imminence of his return he said: "Back soon."
Andy Flower, the England coach, one of those who has spent hours trying to work a rapprochement, will now in addition have to find some way of ensuring Pietersen can be accommodated, perhaps as early as the tour of India from which he was originally omitted. It probably helps that Flower is not one to wonder if things can ever be the same again.
"I always think that it's dangerous to try and recapture what you've had in the past actually," he said. "Things are always in a state of flux and you move on and you learn from what experiences you've had and you evolve. I think that's the healthiest way to go about it, I don't think trying to recapture the past is what we try to do. We try to move on and be stronger and better and wiser than before."
But moving on in this case will be far from straightforward. Pietersen and his representatives, both legal and commercial, have fought their corner ferociously since his relationship with the ECB broke down after the second Test against South Africa at Headingley at the beginning of August.
Much has happened since Leeds, when Pietersen revealed the depth of his disaffection by saying: "It's difficult being me in the England dressing room." His wrangles about his contract were soon swept away when it emerged that he had sent disparaging texts to South Africa players about his England team-mates, including the captain at the time, Andrew Strauss.
In most eyes, including those of the dressing room where Strauss was revered and Pietersen was not, that amounted to betrayal. It will be fascinating to see and hear what form of words the lawyers have eventually come up with to explain that away.
Flower, speaking for the first time since England started their World Twenty20 campaign (which has now ended), said yesterday that he expected resolution in the next 36 hours. But the certainty that would be today, which both sides seem to want, evaporated when Pietersen said he might not be available. To the end, he was making it difficult.
As Flower indicated, the public apology is only the start of the new beginning. "Then at least the formal, sort of legal side of things that has been ongoing for weeks will be behind us, and we can move forward," he said.
That lawyers have been involved at every turn to try to resurrect the career of someone who bats for a living still takes the breath away much more than a Pietersen switch-hit.
"You always want to draw lines under situations such as this," said Flower. "Part of the job, part of why Hugh Morris employs me is that you have to deal with whatever situations come your way so you can't do anything about it. It is part of the job and you get on with it. This is unprecedented."
Although he has never said as much, Flower has been drained by the imbroglio. He has had to play his part in accommodating the exile while simultaneously preparing a team for a major competition without him. It had not been a great couple of months, he agreed.
In paying tribute to Morris, the managing director of England Cricket and his immediate boss, he said: "Hugh Morris is a good man and the board has been very supportive and clear in their thinking and I appreciate their support and their experience and their wisdom." He was asked if he thought Kevin was a good man and replied simply: "I think he's a... I think we all have good and bad in us, all of us."
A kind of year zero is dawning. Today is about the future but they have to negotiate today first.
Too callow, too careless, too distracted: Five reasons England failed to retain title
1. Losing too many early wickets
It is vital in the shortest form of the game that the top three stay in and score the bulk of the runs. Otherwise the innings can all be over in a flash.
"We lost wickets early in pretty much every game," admitted the England coach, Andy Flower. "While Alex Hales and Luke Wright occasionally showed some real skill, power and method, generally our top three didn't perform as is needed in Twenty20 if we were going to go through to the semis."
The biggest disappointment was the wicketkeeper-batsman, Craig Kieswetter, player of the final when England became T20 champions in 2010. It was not simply that he was out three times inside the first four overs but that he had made so little progress. Two years ago he was a hard-hitting novice who got away with a lot. This time, his limitations were exposed.
2. Bowling lacked potency
The opposition was simply allowed to score too many runs. England bowled too many bad balls, either failing to stick to their plans or sticking to them too rigidly.
Of all the players they missed from 2010, the left-arm seamer Ryan Sidebottom was perhaps felt above all. The third seamers' spot, whether occupied by Tim Bresnan or Jade Dernbach, was a huge disappointment. Between them they took two wickets for 163 in 18.2 overs.
Steve Finn was exemplary, Graeme Swann did all that could have been expected but in general England conceded too many runs. Flower said: "Whereas in the previous World Cup we restricted sides in the main to scores of 150 or below, that wasn't the case here. That's not because of the types of wickets we played on. We didn't bowl as well as we could."
3. The Pietersen distraction
England sorely needed Kevin Pietersen's power and were affected by the kerfuffle his absence caused. To rub it in, he was there every day, getting $1m to work as a temporary pundit (he is still here).
Flower said: "We definitely missed him, there's no doubt about that. It would have helped our batting side to have him. But when we picked the side he wasn't available for various reasons."
It was impossible to ignore him. Player of the tournament when England won it, he was there telling the world – and telling it very well – all about batting in Twenty20 instead of doing it. England's young ones knew who was better at it.
Flower saw attending to the Pietersen issue as an extension of his job but it must have been wearing with such a title at stake. It was wearing for everybody here – Pietersen was the main topic of conversation whenever England's chances were discussed.
4. The team were too inexperienced
Between them, England had a total of 11 international centuries. That was chicken feed compared with other teams who had hundreds between them.
But they were also short of appearances on the big stage generally whether that be the IPL, for all its deficiencies, or the Australian Big Bash. England's domestic competition may not have equipped them.
"They would definitely learn from those tournaments like they would have learned from this tournament as well – playing with other players from other countries who bring different perspectives on the game and technique," said Flower.
"If you look at our batting line-up, it was a young group. But that brings excitement and power and speed – but we did lack a little in experience. Some of these guys [from the other teams] have been around for 15 years." That said, England had tried the likes of Ian Bell, Jonathan Trott and Matt Prior before and that had not worked either.
5. No settled side
England chopped and changed through necessity, design and panic. "It was an obvous difference between this time and last time," said Flower. "We didn't have a settled side, we also made changes based on conditions and on the opposition we were facing."
Not all the changes were forced on England and often they were made because they were unsure what their best XI was, always a sure sign of a team swimming against the tide.
The decision to bring the players they did may prove a sound investment for the future, though. While Flower sees the day of the T20 specialist looming, he cautions: "Without doubt there will be players who play all three forms of the game and be very successful at it, because some of the same skills, thinking, and [the ability to make] good decisions under pressure in Test cricket will be the same."
Utimately England lost their title because they did not enough talented players on form.
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