England's squad announcement was delayed twice yesterday to deal with the unexpected decision to drop Kevin Pietersen. In a week when cricket has already suffered its share of grave misfortune, it did not look as though the selectors were a well-oiled professional machine.
Not long ago unrivalled as England's leading batsman, Pietersen has been left out of the group of players for the limited-overs internationals against Pakistan, which are expected to begin in Cardiff on Sunday. Although there were solid grounds for Pietersen's omission after his poor run of form, it was hardly handled with slick expertise.
The announcement of the squads for the two Twenty20 matches and five one-day internationals of 50 overs was postponed from noon and 2pm. It transpired that this was so a loan arrangement could be negotiated between Hampshire, the country Pietersen is formally leaving at the end of the season, and Surrey, a county nearer his home in Chelsea.
But long before the eventual official declaration at 5.15pm Pietersen had let the world know via Twitter. Not only that, but he skewered the later comments that would accompany the ECB's release about being disappointed but understanding by revealing somewhat different feelings.
Pietersen wrote: "Yep, done for rest of summer. Man of the World Cup Twenty20 and dropped from the T20 side too. It's a fuck up!! Surrey have signed me for l...". The message then ended because tweets can be a maximum of 140 characters. The nature and tone of the message, which was taken down minutes later, makes it seem Pietersen might have been intending to send a text to a pal.
In any event, he will play for Surrey for the rest of the season – perhaps beyond if it works out – having burned his bridges with Hampshire, starting with a Clydesdale Bank 40-over match today. As Geoff Miller, the chairman of selectors explained, the case for dropping Pietersen to allow him to find form was strong but it still came as a surprise to all who have watched this panel adhere to their mantra of continuity.
The only other mild surprise in the squads is the omission from the five one-day matches of the Somerset wicketkeeper-batsman, Craig Kieswetter, man of the match in the World Twenty20 final. He has retained his place as a batsman for the T20 matches but will be replaced as keeper in both formats by Steve Davies of Surrey, with the selectors continuing to overlook the obvious claims of accomplished Test keeper-batsman Matt Prior.
To leave out Pietersen, the man who for so long had been their team's best player and knew it, perhaps showed the ruthless streak of coach Andy Flower. It has been made plain that Pietersen is expected to return for the tour of Australia but nothing is certain now. If he does not make runs for Surrey, picking him may be impossible.
Miller said: "We know KP is a high-quality international player but his form has not been where he would have wanted it to be so we've given him the opportunity to get some middle practice with the Ashes in mind. We've taken everything into account regarding this series and an arduous winter to come."
Given the selectors' preference for stability, there is no doubt Pietersen would be surprised and could consider himself unfortunate. Although his top score this summer was the rather scratchy 80 he made in the second Test against Pakistan at Edgbaston and his Test average has been plummeting, he was man of the tournament in the World Twenty20 in May, as his tweet pointed out, and from 2005 to the end of 2008 was easily England's leading player.
The Test opening batsman, Alastair Cook, was probably one match from being dropped last month when he made a hundred at The Oval in the third Test and Miller insisted Pietersen had been afforded even more opportunity to find form than Cook.
"There was a lot more time given to KP than to Alastair. It got to a stage with Alastair where we gave him the opportunity to score some runs at The Oval and he came good with a hundred. With Kevin, his form has not been what we would like for a bit longer so it is not a question of us not being fair with him."
Miller was clearly outraged by Pietersen's comments on Twitter: "I don't like that kind of language and I don't use that language at all. I don't follow twitter and I'm not a great believer in that kind of thing. I don't think it is necessary. I'll talk to KP. Whether there is an apology or not I'm sure Andy Flower will have a word with him."
He may need a word about other things as well. Pietersen sounds like he needs some tender loving care, not a lecture.
Twenty20 squad P D Collingwood (Durham, capt); J M Anderson (Lancashire); R S Bopara (Essex); T T Bresnan (Yorkshire); S C J Broad (Notts); S M Davies (Surrey); C Kieswetter (Somerset); E J G Morgan (Middlesex); R J Sidebottom; G P Swann (both Notts); L J Wright; M H Yardy (both Sussex).
One-day squad (not including those players also in the T20 squad): A J Strauss (Middlesex, capt); A Shahzad (Yorks); I J L Trott (Warwickshire).
First T20: Sunday 5 September, Cardiff; second T20: Tuesday 7, Cardiff. First ODI: Friday 10, Emirates Durham ICG; second ODI: Sunday 12, Headingley; third ODI: Friday 17, The Oval; fourth ODI: Monday 20, Lord's; fifth ODI: Wednesday 22, The Rose Bowl.Reuse content