Kevin Pietersen faces exclusion from India tour as Andy Flower and Hugh Morris prepare to act
South Africa 77-5 England 29-2
Kevin Pietersen's immediate future as an international cricketer will be decided today. All the rational indications are that he will not be picked in the party which will leave for India next month to play four Test matches.
But, since nothing has been rational so far in the bizarre affair which has led to a cataclysmic rift between the batsman and the rest of the team, anything is yet possible. The selection panel of four will effectively be told whether Pietersen is eligible.
Hugh Morris, the England managing director, and Andy Flower, the coach who is also one of the selectors, are charged with deciding whether the chasm has been bridged sufficiently for Pietersen to resume his place in the dressing room. If they decide he should be made available, the selectors will pick him.
Talks have presumably been continuing in several ways over several days, although the understandable quest for privacy has made it difficult to follow events. Goodwill and forgiveness will be needed on all sides for Pietersen to have any chance of making the touring squad and there does not look to be enough of either.
Pietersen was dropped by England after giving an extraordinary press conference following the second Test against South Africa at Headingley. He said then that several matters needed sorting out in the dressing room and a few days later events took the strangest of twists when it was revealed that Pietersen had sent text messages about his England team-mates, including Andrew Strauss, the captain at the time, to South Africa players.
Although Pietersen eventually apologised for this, conceding that the texts were provocative, his contrition seemed far from genuine. But the player himself is equally disturbed by some of the treatment he believes he received in the dressing room.
If anything is clear in this sorry saga it is that the division had been growing for months until the final split. Common ground, should it be found, is unlikely to emerge in time for India. All that may concentrate minds is that ideally England want Pietersen involved because he plays match-winning innings and Pietersen wants to play for much the same reasons.
Just in case, Pietersen may be planning for a winter which includes the Big Bash T20 in Australia as well as the Indian Premier League in the spring. He will not be short of suitors, though in his case you can never be sure how long the marriage will last.
Without Pietersen, England's Test middle order will seem flimsy. Eoin Morgan, surprisingly awarded a central contract last week, after not being chosen for any of England's last eight Tests, is almost certain to feature in the squad.
Ravi Bopara, who was dropped from the Twenty20 side last night after a wretched run of scores, will almost certainly not. A new opening batsman will be needed to replace the recently retired Strauss and, all in all, it looks a mess.
Much the same can be deduced about the preparations for the defence of the World Twenty20 title. The tournament starts in Sri Lanka next week. In Pietersen's absence, Bopara was to be a key part of the early batting but his game has fallen apart since he withdrew voluntarily from the second Test against South Africa for personal reasons. His top score in seven innings since is 16, the rest have been in single figures.
England sensed they had little option but to omit him last night and it is difficult to see how he can be ready for a major tournament. There may be something in the assertion of the T20 captain, Stuart Broad, that a couple of shots can swiftly transform fortunes in T20, but Bopara does not look like playing them.
Luke Wright came into his place at No 3 at Old Trafford last night as England chased a target of 78 in the second Twenty20, reduced to nine overs a side by rain. Hashim Amla was yet again South Africa's top scorer with 47 from 30 balls and was yet again dropped, this time on 31.
England started slowly, picked up a little and were still just in the hunt at 29 for 2 when the rain came again to end proceedings as a no result in the fifth over of England's reply. In one sense it was good practice. It may be raining in Sri Lanka as well.
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