KP walks after England refuse to let him select T20s over ODIs
Star batsman leaves both limited-overs sides in flux – but still wants to play Test matches
One question above all accompanied Kevin Pietersen's retirement from limited-overs cricket yesterday. It exercised England's management and it may have occurred to Pietersen himself. Why now?
The parting of the ways, if not completely acrimonious, was far from congenial either. Hugh Morris, the managing director of England cricket, said that they were "disappointed by the timing of Kevin's decision less than four months before we defend our ICC World Twenty20 title". If the temperate Morris was that opinionated about it, others may have been fuming.
Pietersen wanted to play in the World T20 in Sri Lanka in September. He was player of the tournament when England won the title in 2010 and without him their chances of retaining it, already slim, have receded to a speck. But he insisted on calling a halt immediately to his career in 50-over internationals, of which England have 13 this summer.
Selection rules as inserted in central contracts do not allow players to opt for only one form of the limited-overs game. Planning for both the 50-over one-day internationals and the T20s is apparently inextricably linked.
It left England's management with a dilemma they could resolve in only one way. Although they insist there is an element of wriggle room, they were adamant that there could not be one regulation as applied to Pietersen and one for everybody else. The fact that Michael Lumb, for instance, has played only T20 cricket at international level and helped England to the title in Barbados two years ago, is not pertinent. Lumb was available for the 50-over game but England preferred not to pick him.
The announcement, barely a fortnight before the start of England's first one-day series of the summer and three months after Pietersen's 50-over career was reborn in a blaze of glory he suggested would take him to the next World Cup in 2015, invited immediate speculation. The most obvious was why it seemed beyond Pietersen to play this summer, perhaps missing a handful of matches, and quit after the World T20.
There were abundant theories that he would become a bat for hire in the various Twenty20 competitions around the world. Doubts also surround his durability as a Test batsman, although on the surface this retirement is designed to prolong it.
Relations between Pietersen and his employers are not exactly hunky dory at present. He was censured again last week for some inappropriate comments on Twitter, though he was silent on the networking site yesterday. His colleagues may wonder why he has left a form of the game in which he made his reputation. If there is any sense still around his decision will also provoke a fresh debate about the absurdly crowded international cricket programme.
Pietersen said yesterday: "For the record, were the selection criteria not in place, I would have readily played for England in the upcoming ICC World Twenty20." He could hardly have put his intentions more plainly.
Discussions have been taking place for a month and were finalised during the second Test against West Indies at Trent Bridge. But when the board proved inflexible, determined not to set a precedent, there was only one possible outcome. Pietersen walked.
"After a great deal of thought and deliberation, I am announcing my retirement from international one-day cricket," he said. "With the intensity of the international schedule and the increasing demands on my body, approaching 32, I think it is the right time to step aside and let the next generation of players come through to gain experience for the ICC World Cup in 2015. I am immensely proud of my achievements in the one-day game, but still wish to be considered for selection for England in Test cricket."
Pietersen will miss the smell of the greasepaint and the roar of the crowd more perhaps than he realises. But like many cricketers of his age the constant travelling and switching from one form of the game to another has worn him down. He and his wife Jessica have a two-year-old son, Dylan and he has frequently stressed how he misses them not being with him on tour.
As with so many facets of Pietersen's character there is a contradictory element. In the United Arab Emirates last January, his ODI career seemed to have been reborn when he was elevated to open the batting. He responded by scoring centuries, his first in ODIs for three years, in the last two matches against Pakistan.
At the time he was in no doubt where he wanted this to take him, contemptuously dismissing rumours that had abounded for a year that he was considering dropping out of one-day cricket, and talked it through with the coach Andy Flower and the one-day captain, Alastair Cook. He said then: "We've talked it over. I'd like it to be permanent, Andy wants it to be permanent, Cooky wants it to be permanent. What will be will be. The next World Cup in 2015 is very much a target for me."
It leaves England with a conundrum about who should open the batting with Cook that they have little time to solve. They may return to the wicketkeeper Craig Kieswetter, which would be unsatisfactory as they seemed to have already taken on view his limitations. Ian Bell, possibly an ideal candidate in some ways, has had plenty of opportunities without really making a place his own anywhere else in the order.
No one will bring Pietersen's bravura to the job. In full flow he is a sight not be missed. The switch hit that he virtually invented, allied to his recently adapted scoop shot, would test attacks anywhere. But it is his booming front foot play that sets the pulse racing.
He announced himself in international cricket like a whirlwind. After a few low key matches in Zimbabwe he played in his native South Africa, booed by crowds wherever he went. England were pretty hopeless in that series but Pietersen scored three hundreds. To think that will be seen no more makes cricket much the poorer.
KP stats: Pietersen's record
One-Day International statistics:
Debut 2004 Matches 127; Innings 116
Runs 4,firstname.lastname@example.org 100s 9 50s 23
HS 130 v Pakistan, Dubai, 2012
Twenty20 International statistics:
Debut 2005 Matches 36; Innings 36
Runs 1,email@example.com 100s 0 50s 7
HS 79 v Zimbabwe, Cape Town, 2007.
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