Does Kevin Pietersen court controversy, or does it follow him around?
The Mail on Sunday reported at the weekend that, ‘Pietersen’s future in international cricket will be high on the agenda when the England team management meet for their winter debriefing in mid-May.’
It is said that the hierarchy are short on patience with the batsman for his lack of commitment, evidenced in that early World Cup homecoming and off-field distractions. International exile is supposedly under consideration. At just 30, with his Test legacy still to be written, this would be nothing short of a catastrophe for the player himself.
The story follows a scoop last month in the Daily Mail that Pietersen would quit 50-over cricket round about now.
Both claims are at odds with the official KP line. He tweeted an immediate rejection of the idea he could stop playing one-day internationals and only last week professed an interest in the limited-overs captaincy. He is talking as a man who considers himself an established senior player in a thriving set-up. Although not the force of his early Test career he should have plenty to offer for another four-year cycle of Ashes, World T20 and World Cup.
Certainly he might be saying one thing in public and doing another behind the scenes. But it is remarkable how much attention Pietersen gets both when he is doing something and nothing.
The World Cup withdrawal was a case in point. Famously, no-one works harder than Pietersen in training. A prodigious netter, he was a fitness fanatic before it was mandatory. He could never be accused of lacking ambition and has long shown great appetite and aptitude for 50-over cricket.
This is not the profile of a man keen to leave a World Cup early. Andy Flower made clear that the hernia problem was genuine. Yet the coach’s attitude at the withdrawal was reported as disgust rather than disappointment. Ludicrous parallels were drawn with the Zimbabwean’s formidable acts of courage during his playing career. It is a safe bet that Flower does not assess the deeds of all other cricketers as pitiful compared to his defiance of Robert Mugabe.
The player did not help himself by tweeting delight at being back in London or having his photograph taken out in Soho as his team-mates toiled on the subcontinent. But, again, was Pietersen really being so awkward? The England schedule throughout the winter placed unreasonable physical and mental demands on players involved in all three formats. He was no more pleased to be back in the first week of March than the rest of the squad were a fortnight later. But, again, this was reported as singularly selfish, consistent with a loose cannon lacking in respect for the team unit.
Compare and contrast with Saturday’s comment from Alastair Cook that extreme measures may be required from players if that unreasonable schedule is to be updated: ‘We can go on strike, which is not recommended, but at some stage it [the schedule] will have to change.’
Fears that the left-hander is in danger of becoming interesting have been quickly allayed. Cook withdrew his commitment to the interesting strike proposal on Tuesday morning citing a “misunderstanding”. Nothing more has been said, but then hardly anyone picked up on the original quote either.
If Pietersen is to retire from 50-over cricket it is because he feels he cannot keep fighting on all three fronts so, for the good of himself and the team, he will have to give one up. Both he and Cook have legitimate concerns on the schedule, but only one could be thought provocative and that is Cook’s “strike” comment. If it had come from Pietersen it would be headline news around the cricket world.
By all means Pietersen has his flaws. Potentially the 20- and/or 50-over captaincies will be available in the next year. But, even if he promises four year’s full commitment, Flower and Andrew Strauss will probably not consider him for fear that he will carry unnecessary headlines.
Some of those headlines Pietersen brings on himself by getting involved in issues that don’t concern him – for example, his inappropriate public criticism of Samit Patel. But in this continued whispering campaign around his future even innocuous issues are manipulated into mini crises, and the formidable contribution he can still make is eclipsed. Those who seek controversy really do follow him around. Cricket365