Sensitive soul damaged by his loss of status in team

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The Independent Online

Some 82 years ago, Australia dropped Don Bradman. But then he was only 20 at the time, had played but one Test match and the selectors, numbskulls though they might have been, were not quite sure of his talent.

The omission of Kevin Pietersen from the England squad for the seven limited-overs matches against Pakistan that are due to start on Sunday is not quite in the category of giving the hard word to the Don. But it is not far off.

By his own admission, Pietersen is England's best batsman, who can achieve things in all forms of the game that are beyond his fellows. Three months ago he was man of the tournament in the World Twenty20, which England won.

He scored a rumbustious 47 from 31 balls in the final in Barbados by way of celebrating the birth of his son, Dylan, a few days earlier, and yet now in England's next T20 match after that he will not feature. After a run of form which has seen his previously unprecedented confidence levels destroyed, he has been put out to grass for the rest of the summer in the hope – by no means guaranteed to be realised – that he will regroup in time for the Ashes tour of Australia starting in late October.

Pietersen has paid the price not only for a moderate summer but for the year which preceded it. When he was awarded the captaincy of England in the late summer of 2008, following the sudden resignation of Michael Vaughan, Pietersen had the world at his feet.

There followed a Test victory against South Africa, albeit of the consolation variety with the series already lost, and an unprecedented hammering of the same opposition in the one-day series that followed.

Briefly, KP was master of all he surveyed in English cricket. Since when, it has all gone badly awry. Pietersen's life has changed beyond compare and not simply cod psychology says it will never be the same again. Nor, it has become increasingly obvious, might his batting splendour.

All began to unravel on England's tour of India in late 2008. The side were exposed in the one-day series, which they were losing 5-0 and never looked as if they could win a match, with India playing one-day cricket from a different planet.

There followed terrorist attacks in Mumbai which forced the temporary abandonment of the tour. Pietersen handled himself with mature aplomb, but cracks had already started to appear in his relationship with the coach, Peter Moores. They opened wide early in the new year of 2009 and both men lost their jobs.

Reduced to the ranks, he became in some ways a model trooper. Except, that is, when he wanted special treatment. England toured the West Indies that spring and it emerged that Pietersen had wanted to fly home for a few days to see his wife, a request that was denied.

For all his outward assurance and belief in his ability, Pietersen is a sensitive (and courteous) soul and he has never dodged the issue that the loss of the captaincy hurt. But gradually his status in the team began to be eroded.

In the summer of 2009, Pietersen was ruled out of cricket for several months because of an Achilles tendon injury, probably sustained because of his devotion to keeping fit through running. England went on to win the Ashes without his being in the side for the final three matches, an achievement which would have been unimaginable without it actually happening.

An infection in the operation scar delayed his recovery. England began to grow accustomed to being without him. His life at home was revolutionised, as most lives are, by the advent of his first son, born to Pietersen and his wife Jessica. Gradually, his role as cock of the walk has been eroded.

Pietersen has played as if dreadfully out of form and the results have confirmed it. The three or so weeks in the Twenty20 when he was in his pomp once more, given licence to smash the ball out of the park, begin to look increasingly like an oasis in an arid desert.

He parted company with his county Hampshire after barely appearing for them for five years, declaring clumsily that his home is in Chelsea. He still has a tendency to fall out with people. It was announced yesterday that he has signed for Surrey.

Neither in the six Test matches nor the five one-day matches he has played this summer has he convinced. His shot selection has been dire, tricks that once worked have failed. His top score of 80 a fortnight ago was gritty but error-strewn.

Pietersen is hurt by his omission but he should eventually come to thank the selectors. England need him in Australia this winter, but not as much as they once would have done. If he realises that he may be restored.

Pietersen's year so far

January A good start on tour to South Africa was short-lived – accumulated a series average of just 25.

February Form improved in the T20 internationals against Pakistan, with scores of 43 not out and 62.

March Struggled for form during ODIs with Bangladesh, but Test average of 83.33 indicated return to form.

April Averaged 59 in the Indian Premier League – the highest in the IPL.

May Played a significant part of England's World T20 victory, named player of the series with 248 runs.

June Made first Hampshire appearance in two years but contract not renewed.

July Overlooked by Hampshire, despite the ECB making him available.

August Excluded from Hampshire's victorious Twenty20 finals squad.

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Giles Lucas

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