Sometime this week the leadership of the England cricket team will be determined. If it is not quite the case that either Kevin Pietersen, the captain, or Peter Moores, the coach, will have to go, it is pretty close to it.
To avoid this awkward outcome, Hugh Morris, the clumsily titled managing director of England cricket, will have to use all the diplomatic skills at his disposal, and never will his emollient approach be more welcome or necessary.
Moores and Pietersen have been at odds for months, and before the latter assumed the captaincy last summer his feelings for the former were not of unbounded affection and respect. It seems that the pair became more distant on the tour of India, and the matter reached a head in bizarre circumstances last week.
A story appeared suggesting that Pietersen was seeking showdown talks about Moores with the chairman of the England and Wales Cricket Board, Giles Clarke, after Michael Vaughan was omitted from the squad who head to the West Indies later this month. But while Pietersen might have been miffed at Vaughan's exclusion, he must have known that it was nothing whatsoever to do with Clarke, and that Moores was but one voice on the selection panel.
The source of this half-baked story was the subject of some bemusement in the ECB and if it was, either directlyor indirectly, Vaughan or Pietersen, it reflects well on neither of them. But it put into sharp focus the truth that the liaison between Moores and Pietersen is at best still evolving, at worst on the verge of total collapse.
Morris now has to decide if it is beyond repair. The English game would look foolish if either man were to depart. Moores was appointed to replace Duncan Fletcher 20 months ago without interview. He was deemed to be the sole and logical choice. Pietersen was similarly ushered in when Vaughan resigned last summer. It was as if there was no alternative, but there is always an alternative.
If Moores were to go now it would be seen to be at Pietersen's behest, whatever protestations Morris and the ECB made that it was for the good of the team. What, for instance, would happen the next time Pietersen did not particularly take to all a coach's methods? Or should the ECB simply ask him whom he would prefer?
Equally, if Moores has a vision for the England team under his stewardship then he has been slow to declare it. He must be flexible under which-ever captain he works with. The captain, as he and his predecessor Fletcher – who worked well with two – are always at pains to point out, is the most important component in any cricket team.
At best, Pietersen is a work in progress as captain. He would do himself much good by declaring his hand. But it seems he cannot. If Moores is ditched it would call into question the ECB's entire policy. If Pietersen went, his appointment would be seen as a catastrophic mistake. It is hopeless preparation for a long tour, and for the Ashes.