England are ready to end Kevin Pietersen's international career to demonstrate that no man is bigger than the team. They are steadfastly refusing to accede to a string of demands about his future treatment and unless compromise is reached quickly the Test match against South Africa at Lord's next week could easily be his last – if he gets that far.
"I can't see any immediate prospect of a rapprochement," said Angus Porter, Professional Cricketers' Association chief executive. "He's likely to play next week but it becomes an issue with the next contracts in September."
But with both sides seemingly in entrenched positions, there can be no certainty that Pietersen will be selected for the final game of the series, which England must win to retain their status at the top of the ICC Test rankings. Whatever anybody is saying publicly the issue is bound to be a distraction.
The England and Wales Cricket Board are keen to resume talks with Pietersen and his agent but want to avoid making any concessions because of what it might mean for other players in future. But there is also a growing feeling that Pietersen, albeit for his own ends, is raising points that need to be addressed.
Although there are a range of issues concerning Pietersen's availability, including a possible return to limited-overs cricket, the core of the dispute remains the Indian Premier League. Pietersen wants to play the entire six-week tournament for Delhi Daredevils next year which would entail his missing the two-match Test series against New Zealand at home in May.
Porter, who helped to set up the initial negotiations, said: "It is reasonably well known that Kevin has been proposing a couple of things that have been put on the table and they have quite a lot of merit to them. But I don't think the ECB are going to be in a position to address them even if they were minded to do so. I don't think he is necessarily doing what is right for the team but he is trying to secure what works best for him.
"But I wouldn't expect him to do anything else when he has a chance to secure the future for him and his family. The contract with the IPL is substantial and significant and I don't blame him for wanting to make the most of what is a short career."
Sympathy elsewhere for Pietersen might have been in shorter supply despite his wonderful innings of 149 in the second Test at Leeds last Saturday which yet again underlined his ability to change a team's fortunes. There is an obvious concern that his stance could damage the team next week and afterwards.
Mike Gatting, former England captain who is now the ECB's managing director of cricket partnerships, told Sky Sports News: "I'm not sure why he wants to quit Test cricket now. But that's up to KP. He's the man that makes the decisions, and nobody else.
"He's done really well for England, and he proved that at Headingley by playing a magnificent innings. It'll be sad to lose him.
"But it will give somebody else a chance to come into the England team and prove their worth."
It is also true though that Pietersen has raised wider issues about the demands on players. The PCA wants to discuss greater flexibility for players in the imminent central contract negotiations. There is also a more fundamental point about the early season Tests.
Porter said: "The primacy of Test cricket is well-intended but the practicalities are that the trend does not support that. In the early series at home each year England may well be able to put out a full strength team but that increasingly will not be the case with the opponents."
For three years after next year, ICC tournaments will be played in the spring with the staging of the IPL immediately after clashing with the start of the English international season. That will certainly mean that the tourists will be without several star players.
"You can probably get away with that for a year, maybe two but you can't keep getting away with it without weakening the game completely," said Porter.
Unwittingly, Pietersen may yet change the whole structure of English cricket.Reuse content