King Kev needs more than kind words if he is to reign once again
The old ground was as quiet as it gets, with a full house in, as Kevin Pietersen made his slow way back to the pavilion yesterday. Even the batsman's most loyal supporters were struggling for something to say that would not sound hollow in the wake of another failure.
No doubt a few paying customers nudged one another and trotted out the line that at least England's No 4 had not fallen to a left-arm spinner for the 20th time in 58 Test dismissals – owing to the fact a right-arm seamer of no great repute had sent him packing.
But, really, the time for talking in defence of Pietersen is over and now the man himself had better take some positive action to convince the doubters – and they are growing in number by the innings – that all his best days are not behind him.
Anyone just renewing their acquaintance with cricket after 12 months in the wilderness may look at the record books this morning and ask what all the fuss is about. A glance at the winter's Ashes series will reveal a score of 227 against Pietersen's name, and it is true that in the second Test in Adelaide he looked like the King Kev of old.
Sadly, though, we have seen nothing even remotely in the class of that innings for quite some time, before or since. His average may still be healthy, at above 47, but his run of scores – no century in 31 completed Test innings outside of that double hundred – looks decidedly sickly.
Yet it is not even a lack of runs that should be worrying England's selectors, it is the lack of certainty. Pietersen looked like that cat on the hot tin roof during his painful innings in Cardiff and, here, a hitherto plausible attempt to exude confidence was undone by the manner of his dismissal.
First his coach, Andy Flower, and then his captain, Andrew Strauss, spoke in support of Pietersen between Tests. The former described himself as "very excited" by what he was seeing from the 30-year-old, adding: "I think he is on the verge of being a very heavy scorer again." And the latter chipped in with: "I think Kevin will have a very strong summer for us. He is in a good place mentally."
Then, last night, team-mate Eoin Morgan joined the "we're backing KP" campaign by declaring: "He could easily go out and score 170 [next time]."
All of those comments may turn out to be true, although the only place that Pietersen spent any time in yesterday, mentally or physically, was the home changing room – with a score of two against his name.
It's in the middle that he needs to take up residence in order to convince everyone – including himself, one suspects – that the old magic has been temporarily mislaid rather than lost, never to be found again. And for seven balls yesterday it all looked pretty positive: a bouncer was ducked, four deliveries wide of off stump were left with exaggerated care and two singles came his way via sensible pushes into the covers.
So why oh why did he then drive at another ball from Suranga Lakmal that could have been allowed to pass harmlessly outside off stump? Because, presumably, he is just too anxious to get cracking and just too keen to leave all the negative remarks trailing in his wake.
Anyone who wishes England well in their quest to become the world's No 1 Test team sooner rather than later should hope that Pietersen has the final word of this debate. But if his form is still the big talking point at the end of the Sri Lanka series then he may need more than the good vibes of coach and captain to save him.
Nine months ago, it was Alastair Cook whose career needed reviving – and we all know what happened next. So follow that, KP.
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