Public apology the price of Kevin Pietersen's England return
Restoring trust is key in a make-or-break week for resolving a dispute that has drained Flower
Kevin Pietersen must issue a public apology if he is to resume his England career. That is believed to be the final and most crucial factor before he can expect to step over the threshold of an international dressing room again.
After weeks of negotiations, leaks, silence, smoke and mirrors, it is widely anticipated that the dispute between Pietersen and his employers, the England and Wales Cricket Board, will be settled later this week. There is still no certainty about the outcome.
Pietersen, in effect, became a free agent last night when his central contract formally ended. It opens a world of possibilities and money-making opportunities for him – the Indian Premier League, the Australian Big Bash, the Sri Lankan Premier League, even at a push the English Twenty20 – but none would truly embrace the limelight he craves by playing for England.
The seemingly endless discussions have essentially been about one subject, the matter of trust. England must satisfy themselves that they can trust Pietersen again (no doubt the feeling may be mutual) going forward, not simply for a day or a match, but for the remainder of his time as an international cricketer.
Whether Pietersen can accede to England's insistence on an apology may be open to doubt. He has already had one attempt, albeit delivered by his agent in the form of a written statement, which probably did more harm than good.
It might have been sincere but it went no way at all to addressing the differences between Pietersen and England's management. They may expect something more detailed, reflective and personal.
Extreme though such a demand may seem it is a measure of the strong feelings on both sides. Pietersen is not an obvious natural at mea culpa and in any case the feeling that nothing will ever be the same is hard to dispel.
The protracted discussions have had a draining effect on Andy Flower, England's coach. He has done his best to conceal it, partly by not speaking to media, but to see him in unguarded moments recently has been to see a man under stress.
Although the matter came to a head only a month ago, Pietersen had been agitating for months about amendments to his contract. Many of these were about his desire to play in the IPL. Now he has to decide how much he wants to play for England and the form of words, perhaps involving lawyers, will perhaps be less important than the way he utters them.
Pietersen's glittering presence in England's side came to a shuddering halt in August after he played a brilliant innings of 149 in the second Test against South Africa at Headingley.
In the immediate aftermath of that draw, Pietersen spoke at a press conference of the difficulties of being him in the dressing room. There were, he said, issues that needed sorting out.
But a few days later, as the specific nature of his demands, largely regarding his lucrative participation in the IPL, were being pondered, it was revealed that Pietersen had sent derogatory texts about his team-mates to some South African players.
The precise content of these has never been revealed and it is said they have been deleted, vanishing into the ether. But it was widely believed they contained disparaging comments about Andrew Strauss, who was then England's Test captain. When Strauss, before his retirement, commented that he felt let down it seemed as if there had been a genuine betrayal.
There has been a surreal air to the dispute in the past month. While Flower and England have been straining to stay in contention in the World Twenty20, Pietersen, who was player of the tournament when they won it two years ago, has been a pundit.
It has been like watching a spectre at the feast. Indeed, sometimes it has been worse. As Pietersen's dark features have looked out of the TV screen he might have been in Oceania saying: "Big Brother is watching you."
There has been an understandable lack of official statements as the sides have tried to keep their discussions private. But Pietersen has attracted a cohort of celebrity supporters, some of whom have condemned the ECB. It may have been more hindrance than help, fuelling the suspicion that Pietersen, for all his talent, has sometimes chosen his friends unwisely.
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