Pietersen nearing his endgame
England's best batsman on the brink as team-mates tire of his self-centred attitude
Tuesday 31 March 2009
England reached their final destination of the winter yesterday. Speculation mounted that it might also be the terminus of Kevin Pietersen's international career.
If this was largely idle gossip, born of the fact that there are five days of meaningless preparation before the last match of the tour, it was founded on reasonable principles. Pietersen came to St Lucia having told the whole world that all he wants to do is go home and the suspicion could not be wholly eradicated that his team-mates were having a whip round to buy the ticket.
He is still England's best batsman, he remains committed to the cause, he remains a model professional cricketer in the way he practises and plays, he remains a model of courtesy but that is not all that comes with Pietersen. When he left the field during the fourth one-day international against West Indies complaining of a back spasm there was not sympathy but scepticism.
One text message from England seeking information summed it up: "Injured or petulance?" That he departed while bowling at Shivnarine Chanderpaul, a man whom he had illogically criticised for frequently failing to take the field and not being a team player, multiplied the incredulity.
It has come to this because Pietersen has simply protested too much. For weeks it has become increasingly apparent that he is not a happy soul and that being deposed as England captain in such controversial circumstances in January has been eating away at his soul.
Last week, Pietersen gave a newspaper interview. It was wide-ranging but no more than an amalgam of what he has been saying since he left England 10 weeks ago. There was a crucial difference because to describe his state of mind he said: "I'm at the end of my tether now. I can't wait to get back home."
The attempts to place this phrase in context have been largely ignored because the simple truth is that Pietersen will no sooner arrive home than he will fly off again to play and earn substantial money in the Indian Premier League. There he will captain the Bangalore Royals, having made it abundantly clear that he will not captain England again if they begged.
It has also emerged that he asked to have a break from the tour of the West Indies between the third and fourth Tests. This was not unprecedented because Matt Prior, the team's wicketkeeper, went home at the same time to be with his wife after the birth of their first child. Pietersen, however, wanted the break because his wife Jessica was unable to come to the Caribbean as she was appearing as a competitor in the television programme, Dancing On Ice.
Pietersen has not been miserable, or at least not in public, but he has been plainly aloof. And he said in his column in the News of the World on Sunday that the England squad was "a lonely place to be". He was doubtless trying to appease the paper which pays him a considerable amount of money and which was miffed that he was so forthcoming to a rival.
But there can be little doubt that Pietersen is in turmoil and that many of his colleagues in the England team have had enough of him. There is a general weariness with a self-centred approach that has strayed into self-pity. Whoever is advising him should have told him a few home truths from abroad.
Andrew Strauss has paid regular tribute to the support that Pietersen has given him on a tour that has been self-evidently odd and difficult for both men. "Sometimes what he says is put in big headlines so he must be conscious of the attention," said Strauss. "I've had a chat to him about what he said and it's dealt with as far as we're concerned. I don't think anything he said was in a malicious manner and we move on from there and hopefully lessons have been learned."
It is certain that England cannot simply move on. If Pietersen wishes to stay part of the team he must change. His runs, his class and his dedication to batting will, on paper, guarantee him a place for as long as he wants but his presence is becoming a tedious sideshow. Pietersen misses the point: the team may be largely about Kevin Pietersen but it is not totally about him.
The division is not conclusive but the end of this tour cannot now come soon enough for all concerned. It would be just like Pietersen, assuming that back recovers, to seal a series victory for England with a match-winning century on Friday but that alone will not heal the rift between him and the rest of this team. The time is rapidly coming when the selectors will have to consider whether England are better off without their best player.
* Pietersen and Andrew Flintoff were last night given the all clear to rejoin the squad in St Lucia after staying behind in Barbados for scans on their respective injuries, back and thumb.
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