Kevin Pietersen stand-off piles one dilemma on to another for England
England have enough problems already without latest rift
Kevin Pietersen was dead right in one respect. When he spoke after the end of the Test match in Leeds on Monday he said: "There's always speculation. There's speculation every single day. You guys speculate about my life all day, every day."
It might not be quite as 24/7 as he presumed but his astonishing revelation that his Test career might be drawing to an untimely end has provoked a plethora of comment and opinion on when that might and should be. Both sides in the discord between Pietersen and the England management held their counsel yesterday (except for the usual insider sources) but that did not stop a legion of conjecture.
The likelihood is that Pietersen will play in the third Test against South Africa at Lord's next week, which will determine whether England stay at No 1 in the world rankings. But it is by no means certain because if anything is clear, it is that Pietersen does not much like the England dressing room at present and the dressing room does not much like him.
Of all the possible reasons for Pietersen's disaffection the most amusing was the spoof Twitter account set up anonymously as though it is him doing the tweeting. It was suggested that Pietersen was annoyed by this and suspected it was one of his fellow England players.
Sources close to Pietersen, as they would, denied that it was an issue in his discussions with England and it was also pointed out that it was unlikely to be one of the players since they are not allowed mobile phones during matches and tweets were posted during the Leeds Test.
What fun it all would be, if there were not a Test series and one of the more illustrious careers at stake. It would seem that it has gone too far by now for things ever to be the same again – that is why it is still possible Pietersen will not play at Lord's or again in international cricket.
England are desperate not to treat him as a special case because to do so would undermine the team ethos. But his desire to play in the Indian Premier League, which clashes with part of England's home international season, is likely to be shared by others in the future. They might not wish to grant Pietersen dispensation but if they do not, they are probably storing up trouble. The IPL and its riches are not about to vanish; the nettle must be grasped.
Pietersen, it has begun to emerge, wants consideration beyond that. He believes he is simply expected to play too much cricket. He may have a point, although, not for the first time, the way in which he has gone about making it has failed to garner sympathy.
While Pietersen has not played quite as much as he would have us believe, he has hardly been workshy. Since he made his debut against Australia in July 2005 he has played in 87 of England's 90 Test matches, missing three in the 2009 Ashes series because of a career-threatening Achilles injury.
Part of the trouble, perhaps the core of it, is that no matter how much Pietersen says he is doing it all for the team he can never quite dispel the notion that he is doing it for himself. But then when he plays as he did in his stunning 149 at Leeds last Saturday, it hardly matters.
No matter what happens now, the selectors are in a mess for the third Test. When they sit down to pick the team in the next two days, with the squad announcement due on Sunday, they must first decide on Pietersen's status.
It is exceedingly tricky because no one should think Pietersen could simply walk into the dressing room for practice on Tuesday and say: "Morning boys, hope you're all well, did you have a nice few days off?"
However, they will probably err on the side of picking him. Then, although it might seem to be the wrong way round, they will discuss what the balance should be to try to win the match against South Africa.
There is a proposition that England should alter the template that has brought them success and play only five batsmen, with five specialist bowlers and Matt Prior as the wicketkeeper batting at No 6. They are likely to proceed as normal and it certainly would not happen without Pietersen in the squad.
Although the selectors have been looking at England Lions in the past two days, the squad is unlikely to feature new players, with the caveat of Pietersen's inclusion. Were he not to feature, their options have been restricted by Ravi Bopara's withdrawal from the Lions match because he does not yet feel ready to resume playing.
It means that he cannot be picked and in the extreme circumstances of a Pietersen omission Eoin Morgan or Jonny Bairstow would be recalled. Speculation and more speculation: precisely what England did not need and will struggle to overcome.
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