This is serious. Yesterday, for the seventh straight innings on England's tour of Bangladesh their star batsman, Kevin Pietersen, failed.
There is now nowhere to hide for him; there are no platitudes about his greatness that can disguise the poverty of his form, there is scant evidence to suggest that his golden past can ensure an equally glistening future. Pietersen's score of 20 in England's second innings against Bangladesh A brought to 69 his total of runs in seven outings in this country in the past three weeks.
Immediately after the match had finished, Pietersen trotted briskly down the steep stairs leading from the tourists' dressing room at the Divisional Stadium and had a long net session against local bowlers. He looked like a few million taka. If hard work and desire were guarantees of success, Pietersen would have a triple hundred for the taking in the first Test match, which begins here on Friday.
But they are not. All they are for the moment are his trusty allies and without them it would not be possible to have any confidence in his chances of rediscovering what he has mislaid. Pietersen can be nothing but a concern for England and if he will definitely be in the team he is slightly muddying a selection that has become improbably difficult.
There is a genuine chance that the 20-year-old fast bowler Steve Finn will make his Test debut, having been called up to the touring party only last weekend. He bowled with cleverness and hostility yesterday on a pitch offering little encouragement and his straightness will have endeared him to the selectors, too. As Flower said, he possesses those two friends of any captain, pace and bounce.
England seem minded to play five batsmen and five bowlers, and still have doubts about the fitness of Stuart Broad and Graham Onions. The latter's chances look increasingly forlorn, the former bowled nine net overs and the reaction of his stiff back is now awaited. Broad, Finn and Tim Bresnan could be the seamers with Graeme Swann and James Tredwell, another debutant, as the spinners.
But Pietersen will be far from no one's thoughts. Anyone trotting out the line, "Kevin is a wonderful player, a big score is just round the corner," may as well keep their counsel; they will not be believed. Pietersen is in trouble, the world knows it, his colleagues know it. But while he is still living on the interest accrued by past glories the time is not far away when he starts to eat at the capital. He has much to ponder, not least his continuing tendency to get out against left-arm spinners, three of whom are in Bangladesh's Test squad announced yesterday.
It was left to England's coach, Andy Flower, to assess Pietersen and there was, studiously, no sign of panic. "I thought he looked quite good in the middle today," said Flower. "He batted really nicely against the seam, played really straight, played aggressively against the spin and looked good. It was a pity he didn't spend three hours out there instead of half an hour."
Flower glanced at the nearby net at this point and said: "He's like most world-class players, they spend a lot of time in there and a lot of hard work and a lot of thought is going into his game and I still expect good things from him in this Test match." But he could hardly say anything else. Pietersen's downfall yesterday seemed sadder for occurring in a match that had been reduced to farce. In the half hour before lunch England resorted to soft bowling designed only to entice a declaration and ensure that England had a few hours batting, or rather that Pietersen and Michael Carberry did.
Between them, England's captain, Alastair Cook, and Carberry served up nine overs of unadulterated filth. Only cricket could do this. The equivalent in football would be for a team to allow goals to be scored against them so they could have a workout in the second half. It would not happen.
In nine overs, Bangladesh A scored 189 runs, striking 15 sixes. It was a saving grace that this was not constituted as first-class. Cook's five overs for 111 runs perhaps represented the worst bowling ever perpetrated in an England shirt, though Carberry's 78 runs, yielded in four overs, ran him close.
Bangladesh A duly declared and Pietersen arrived at the fall of poor Carberry, caught at short leg. Carberry's chance of a Test cap might just have gone. Pietersen opted for the assertive approach. Handsome it looked, too, until he swept at Mohammad Ashraful and was bowled.
Bresnan and Tredwell both had a bat but England had what they needed and a draw was duly declared. Pietersen needed a net.
KP on the brink of KO? Chittagong scoreboard
Kevin Pietersen's tour innings:
*0 (lbw; one ball) v Bang CB XI.
*6 (caught; 14 balls) v Bang CB XI.
*1 (caught; five balls) v Bangladesh
*18 (lbw; 27 balls) v Bangladesh
*22 (lbw; 36 balls) v Bangladesh
*2 (caught; three balls) &
*20 (bowled; 22 balls) v Bangladesh AChittagong (Final day of three)
Bangladesh A won toss; Match drawn
BANGLADESH A First ins 202 (Hasan 107no; Tredwell 6-95)
ENGLAND First innings 281-7d (Trott 101, Prior 73no)
BANGLADESH A Second innings (131-3 overnight)
R Hasan b Finn......... 51.........
*M Ashraful b Shahzad......... 30.........
†S Hossain retired out ......... 51.........
S Hom not out......... 91
D Mahmud not out......... 66
Extras (lb7, nb2)......... 9
Total (6 wkts dec, 77 overs)......... 362
Fall: 1-41, 2-49, 3-102, 4-145, 5-160.
Did not bat: Noor Hossain, Syed Rasel, Robiul Islam, Mahbubul Alam.
Bowling: T Bresnan 13-2-20-0, A Shahzad 9-3-20-1, L Plunkett 10-2-33-0, S Finn 11-5-20-1, J Tredwell 21-7-57-2, K Pietersen 4-1-16-1, A Cook 5-0-111-0, M Carberry 4-0-78-0.
ENGLAND Second innings
*A Cook retired out......... 42
M Carberry c Alam b Ashraful......... 48
K Pietersen b Ashraful......... 22
T Bresnan c Mahmud b Ashraful......... 90
J Tredwell b Hossain......... 28
I Bell not out......... 35
J Trott not out......... 12
Extras (lb7, w3, nb3)......... 13
Total (5 wkts, 52 overs)......... 185
Fall: 1-57, 2-87, 3-125, 4-153, 5-161.
Did Not Bat: †M J Prior, L E Plunkett, A Shahzad, S T Finn, S M Davies.
Bowling: D Mahmud 5-1-14-0, M Alam 3-0-29-0, R Islam 7-2-15-0, M Hossain jnr 1-0-7-0, N Hossain 14-3-36-1, M Ashraful 21-3-76-3, S Rahman 1-0-1-0.
Umpires: Mahfuzur Rahman & Sharfuddoula.