England took a huge gamble in the name of team spirit yesterday by dropping Kevin Pietersen. He will not play in the crucial third Test of the Investec series against South Africa, which starts at Lord's on Thursday, and unless there is an unlikely rapprochement his international career could be over.
Pietersen's omission from a match that England must win to level the rubber and retain their No 1 world ranking marked the culmination of a remarkable seven days. It was typical of him that he should issue a defiant statement a few hours after his dropping was announced. "To say I'm gutted is an understatement," he said. "This entire episode has been demoralising for me and my family, but none of this constitutes the end of my international career."
After intensive negotiations between the player, his advisers and the England management, it seemed that agreement had been reached which would allow his inclusion. On Saturday night, Pietersen released a privately shot video interview in which he made himself available for England in all forms of the game, thus renouncing his limited-overs retirement.
He also said he would not seek to play in all of the Indian Premier League next year, admitted he had been wrong in some respects and insisted that it was not all about money. "The video I released was to bring closure to the issues I had at the time," he said. "I stand by every word I said in that video."
But he has still failed to address what was the final stumbling block: the text messages he was reported to have sent to members of the South Africa team around the second Test at Headingley, in which he scored a brilliant hundred. The England and Wales Cricket Board wanted public reassurances that these were not derogatory concerning team-mates or management, particularly the captain, Andrew Strauss, and the coach, Andy Flower.
When there was only silence from the Pietersen camp – and the squad announcement was delayed by five hours to provide him with time and opportunity – England took their astonishing step. Jonny Bairstow has been recalled in his place. Given the reasons, it is difficult to imagine Pietersen rejoining an England dressing room any time soon, if ever.
In his statement, however, Pietersen said: "I love England and I love cricket. I wish the team and Straussy, in particular, every success next week."
It has been a long road to this moment. Hugh Morris, the managing director of England cricket, said: "During the past week we have held several discussions with Kevin Pietersen and his advisers. Following a constructive meeting it was agreed that a number of actions needed to be completed to re-engage Kevin within the England dressing room.
"A fundamental item was to confirm publicly that no derogatory texts had been sent by Kevin to the South African team. This has not been forthcoming, despite clear timelines being set to allow the selectors to pick the squad for the third Investec Test Match. We provided an additional six hours this morning to provide every opportunity for agreement to be reached but, regrettably, this has not been possible.
"The success of the England team has been built on a unity of purpose and trust. Whilst we have made every attempt to find a solution to enable Kevin to be selected we have sadly had to conclude that, in the best interest of the team, he will miss the Lord's Test."
Although text messages are nominally private communication between individuals, it beggars belief that Pietersen would be so foolish. But it is not simply what the messages may or may not contain, it is that he apparently sent them to England's opponents. There has to be a limit.
Pietersen will dominate the days before the match and England are bound to be distracted. England cannot be anything else but underprepared despite Flower's implacable determination.
They will be a lesser team without him and the 149 he made in the first innings at Leeds only nine days ago demonstrates why. If that proves to be his final match it was some memorial. Players have been dropped after slow centuries before, Ken Barrington and Geoff Boycott among them, but never following such a scintillating one.
The first inkling that Pietersen's career was in jeopardy came after the Leeds match when he first gave an interview on Test Match Special and then gave an extraordinary press conference in which he said there were matters that needed sorting.
During the days that followed the text messages lent an extra dimension to events. Just when it seemed England might drop him, Pietersen issued his video interview, though without telling the management. His renewed availability, going against much of what he had said before about the need for rest, was a last-ditch attempt to save his career. It may well have failed.
England squad: Third test
Versus South Africa, starting at Lord's on Thursday
A J Strauss (Middx, capt), J M Anderson (Lancs), J M Bairstow (Yorks), I R Bell (Warwicks), T T Bresnan (Yorks), S C J Broad (Notts), A N Cook (Essex) S T Finn (Middx), G Onions (Durham), M J Prior (Sussex, wk), G P Swann, J W A Taylor (both Notts), I J L Trott (Warwicks).