KP let down by his timing

Batsman's issues are not all about himself but he misses the bigger picture

Whatever is being said, whoever wants what, this is no way to prepare for a critical Test match. Fail to win the final contest in the Investec series next week against South Africa and England will lose their top place in the ICC Test rankings barely a year after ascending to it.

From the moment they became officially the world's best team it has been nothing but trouble. Of the 10 Test matches they have played since then, all this year, they have lost five and won three, two of those against a palpably anaemic West Indies who were fooling nobody as serious Test contenders.

And now, 1-0 behind to South Africa with one to play, England are having to deal with the Kevin Pietersen issue.

Pietersen is protesting about the manner in which he is being treated and while the middle of a Test series might not seem the ideal time or place it is probably always the middle of a Test series. In any case, if you want to make a point to your employers it might as well be when it can cause them most damage and embarrassment.

It was typical of Pietersen that with matters reaching a head between him and the England and Wales Cricket Board, he should go out at Headingley last Saturday and score a sublime century beyond the ambition and capacity of all his team-mates. So resplendent was his innings of 149 that it is bound to be the ghost in the room at any future discussions, a pertinent reminder of precisely what he can do. To that extent, it could hardly have been more timely. After the second Test was drawn on Monday evening, Pietersen declined to go into detail about what he wanted to make life more pleasant again. But his appearance could not expunge the notion that he was feeling sorry for himself.

When he said it was tough being Kevin Pietersen he began to say "in the dressing room" but stopped himself and amended it to "playing for England." It is indeed tough, but what Pietersen failed to grasp as he has done so often before is how tough it must be for those without his talent or earning powers.

Writing as somebody who has always liked him and appreciated his perpetual courteousness, while being flabbergasted by his presumption that the world revolves rounds him, this latest dispute comes as little surprise. For Andy Flower, the coach, and Andrew Strauss, it is where they came in. It would not be utterly surprising if this is where they go out.

There are vague similarities between the position now and then in early 2009. Pietersen was deposed from the England captaincy because he wanted the removal of the coach, the affable Peter Moores, who was indeed sacked, and other changes in the coaching set-up and approach. The manner in which he went about it was defective not least because he had taken the job knowing Moores was in situ.

At the core of the present imbroglio is the Indian Premier League and Pietersen's desire to play in the entire tournament in future. Such a concession by the ECB would mean Pietersen missing the early Test match series in England, usually over two matches against the least attractive opponents.

But although Pietersen refused to expand, the rest of his beef is about the number of matches he is expected to play. The Professional Cricketers' Association supports him on this and it is true that England generally play too much. The ECB is in serious danger of squeezing its supporters dry.

But if it insists on continuing with the schedule, the PCA may demand greater flexibility and much more guaranteed rest. Pietersen has often said that since he started playing international cricket only M S Dhoni, of those still playing, has appeared in more matches. As with many of Pietersen's bolder pronouncements it has an element of truth and good sense but does not quite add up. Since he made his international debut in November 2004 he has played a total of 251 matches across all formats, putting him seventh in the list. Dhoni has played 309 but Kumar Sangakkara tops that figure and two more Sri Lankans and three Australians have also played more. Those who oppose Pietersen's stand insist that he wants it all his own way. He craves rest and time with his family while appearing in the whole of the IPL, not to mention the Australian Big Bash Twenty20 tournament. But the IPL is nowhere near as draining as international cricket and Pietersen will trouser more than $1m (£640,000) for six weeks' work.

He will probably not win this argument because he has stubborn opposition. In the end it may come down to how much England need him and how much he cares for his legacy, which as sure as a team GB cycling gold will not be found in the IPL. But that should not obscure the fact that he has raised wider issues. If only they had not been raised now. South Africa will be laughing all the way to world No 1.

Cricket's busy boys

List of international matches played since Kevin Pietersen made his debut on 28 November 2004:

Tests/ODIs/T20s/Total

K Sangakkara 66/211/35/312

M Jayawardene 68/207/36/311

T Dilshan 60/196/37/293

M S Dhoni 67/210/31/308

M Clarke 77/183/34/294

M Hussey 73/180/36/289

R Ponting 83/168/17/268

K Pietersen 87/128/36/251

A B De Villiers 75/127/36/238

G Smith 73/125/33/231

Clarke, Ponting and Smith have retired from T20. Pietersen has retired from limited-overs cricket.

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