We need to talk about Kevin. Everyone does
Public don't understand why KP is still in the side after long run of poor form
Everyone connected with England these days is asked the Pietersen question. To a man, they say that everything will be all right and that one day soon he will go out there and prove the doubters wrong.
It can only be a matter of time – it may be today – when they start organising a petition: We're Backing Kev. The trouble is that few believe it any longer and fewer still would pick him in the England team.
The point of the non-expert witnesses is pretty persuasive. Neither of Pietersen's dismissals in the opening two Test matches of the summerspeak of a man who is within touching distance of his next double-century as the rest of the dressing room try desperately to make the case for him. Perhaps they are tryingto convince themselves.
In Cardiff he did a primitive version of Riverdance for 11 balls beforesuccumbing to a left-arm spinner, his default mode of dismissal. At Lord's on Friday, he was lured into driving at a wide one, the eighth ball he faced, which ended in gully's hands. Two innings, 19 balls, five runs, reaching urgently for the ball, which took on the elusive nature of a moth.
The selectors will keep faith for a while longer, partly for past deeds, partly because it is natural for them to believe that he can turn the corneras long as he can find the corner. But out there in the country it would appear to be a different story.
"All the lads at work who don't know much about cricket wonder how they can keep picking him," said one chap in the pub the other day when the conversation headed towards Pietersen, as inevitably it does. "They see the scores and they wonder what's going on."
Then there was the ubiquitous cab driver on Friday night who revelled unapologetically in Pietersen's misfortunes. It was not that he had had Kevin in his taxi once, but he did claim to have sat next to him in a tattoo parlour, which, given the abundance of body art defacing both men's arms, was at least plausible.
According to the cabbie, Pietersen, in discussing his tattoo, also asked for an injection to numb the pain. If this seems perfectly understandable, it is apparently unacceptable behaviour among some of the fraternity. Hence the grudge against KP.
Even if the latter is codswallop, these tales go to illustrate that Pietersen, like few cricketers, exercises opinion everywhere. When Alastair Cook, for instance, was going through a poor trot of form last summer, there was a suggestion that he might be dropped, but equally the selectors were left to get on with it. There was not the Cook Question as there is the Pietersen Question.
In so many ways, Pietersen has brought this on himself. If the swashbuckling fashion of his batting in his formative international years made it easy for him to find the limelight he never shunned it, as his appearance in the Sporting Rich List – the only cricketer present – indicates.
It would be a hard heart who did not feel sympathy for him now, but there are plenty of hard hearts out there. They belong to people who point to these scores: 9, 22, 80, 6, 23, 0, 43, 0, 3, 51, 36, 3, 2. Exactly in the middle of that sequence, going back a year, is the scintillating 227 he scored in Adelaide, to which his fans cling as if it was the last straw in a stormy sea. But it is the bookends which are more persuasive to his detractors.
As the form of yore has been elusive, gossip has grown that Pietersen is tired of cricket. It was reported last year that he intended to retire from one-day international cricket to concentrate on Tests and Twenty20.
There are perpetual stories that he will not stay around cricket of any kind for long. All of this is supposition and reckons without the fact Pietersen still genuinely loves playing cricket. As he has said, only for it to fall on deaf ears, what would he do if he did not play? Later this month he will be 31, still the prime for most batsmen, so there is no reason for him to go anywhere.
It cannot go on like this, of course. The end of the Test series against Sri Lanka may be the cut-off point, but one formidable innings will not answer all the questions. He needs a run of scores and the coach, Andy Flower, who is not a man for easy platitudes, seems sincere in his statement that Pietersen looks ready for runs.
Dropping him from the Test team for the first time would hardly be straightforward. He would be going into a Surrey dressing-room where he is largely unknown, which would not necessarily be the best circumstances to rediscover touch.
The selectors may have to make a tough call but whatever the feelings about him out there, England would be a better side with him firing than without him.
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