Kevin Pietersen's international future will be decided tomorrow when the squad for the crucial third Test against South Africa is announced. It is by no means certain that he will be among the 13 names, which would mean the end of his England career.
"A lot has been written and said this week and of course we have talked about these matters," said Geoff Miller, the national selector yesterday, without giving much of a clue of whether they would or they wouldn't. "Cricket is about individuals but it is also about the team. Bearing all that in mind, ultimately it's our job to pick the team we think is capable of winning the Test at Lord's and drawing the series. That's what we have to do."
But not only the selectors were meeting yesterday. Talks involving Hugh Morris, the managing director of the England team who is ultimately responsible for all the players, were also being held.
It is fair to presume they were not concentrated on whether the team should have five batsmen or six, but simply on whether one of them should be Pietersen. And if not him, then who? Jonny Bairstow made a bristling century for England Lions yesterday but it would surely be too soon to recall him.
Perhaps it will come down to whether the management, the selectors and indeed Pietersen's team-mates are fed up enough with him. But the position of the team's dignified captain, Andrew Strauss, who has taken them so far, may also come under scrutiny, if not this week then some time extremely soon, especially if England were indeed to lose their second series of the year.
Pietersen, the team's star batsman who reiterated his talents with a brilliant hundred at Headingley last week, has been shedding goodwill faster than an Usain Bolt sprint. The last straw may have come yesterday with the revelation that he has been texting South Africa players this summer.
Nothing wrong in that, except that a story in the respected South African weekly, the Mail & Guardian, suggests that the messages had contained less than flattering comments about Strauss and other England players.
The obvious inference was that the source was the players themselves. If true, sympathy for Pietersen will diminish. Despite the poor timing, some of the issues he is raising with his employers, especially about the need for rest, are valid.
But to criticise the England captain, an honourable man who has never behaved less than honourably towards Pietersen, might persuade the ECB to act before the selectors. It was Morris who was instrumental in Pietersen's resignation as captain in January 2009 after the player's relationship with the coach, Peter Moores, broke down. It was Strauss who took over and his mature approach and statesmanlike demeanour won Pietersen over.
Pietersen continues to protest that he likes nothing more than playing cricket for England. Considering that the rest of the team have increasingly less time for him, and that they never had much, this may be less true than it was.
That he clearly wants to play on his own terms is reasonable up to a point. When he bats as he did last Saturday at Leeds in making 149, a performance that truly was worth a gold medal, any team in the world would want him. But England have got to where they are – soon that may be where they were, if they lose the match and their ICC top ranking at Lord's – by being a close unit.
There are other purely selectorial matters and the five batsmen-five bowler brigade is unlikely to have its overtures heard. Miller said: "The balance is eventually up to the team management on the day and if there are special circumstances they will decide. But my personal view is that what has got us where we are in the last two or three years is the set-up we have been using." There is likely to be no change in balance but the selection of England's most famous cricketer is far from routine.
Third Test at Lord's: Probable squad
A J Strauss (capt) 35/99
A N Cook 27/82
I J L Trott 31/33
K P Pietersen 32/88
I R Bell 30/79
J W A Taylor 22/1
M J Prior (wkt) 30/57
S C J Broad 26/49
G P Swann 33/45
T T Bresnan 27/16
J M Anderson 30/72
S T Finn 23/15
G Onions 29/9Reuse content