x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Kevin Pietersen's format switch is not a hit with England fans

Pietersen now knows that England select him, not he who selects the team and format to play.

Pietersen had said he wanted to quit Test cricket but now says he has realised how much he 'loves playing for England'.
Pietersen had said he wanted to quit Test cricket but now says he has realised how much he 'loves playing for England'.

Just how do you make sense of Kevin Pietersen? Last week, he was telling us that "It's tough being me", and hinting at fractured relationships with others in the dressing room.

Earlier in the summer, he had spoken of how England was jealous of the Indian Premier League, and retired from limited-overs international cricket, ostensibly to ensure that he would be available to play in lucrative Twenty20 competitions elsewhere as well.

Now, he is back in love with playing for England and has announced his intention to play every form of the game for as long as he can. The IPL will lose him for the second half of next season, so that he can play the home Tests against New Zealand. All's well in his world again. Or is it?

Like the young girl plucking at flower petals, muttering, "he loves me, he loves me not", you're never sure what to expect.

After a week in which he allegedly sent text messages disparaging his own teammates to the opposition, his YouTube apology was as sheepish as it was staged. Pietersen had backed himself into a corner.

Andy Flower, England's director of cricket, was never going to give in to his demands. And with Flower so well respected, both by other players and administrators, the status quo was not going to change anytime soon.

With Pietersen unable to convince the England and Wales Cricket Board that the controversial text messages had not been sent, some sort of punishment was inevitable. The only surprise is that it came in the form of him being dropped for a Test that England must win against South Africa starting on Thursday.

A few days ago, talk was of how Pietersen would play the entire IPL season for Delhi Daredevils next summer. It was an open challenge to Flower and others - "pick me when I want to be selected, or watch me walk away".

Once it became apparent that Flower would calmly watch him walk, Pietersen started singing from another sheet.

"I've taken all that back," he said in the video. "I had a very, very constructive conversation with the owner of the franchise in India and I won't be playing the full IPL. I'll come back and play Test matches against New Zealand next year, so IPL is definitely not an elephant in the room any more.

"I've realised what's important to me. I've realised I can be happy. I've realised how much I love playing for England."

Not a word about who had invited the elephant into the room. Instead, there were the usual tired cliches about the support, which only the most naive Barmy Army member would believe.

"England cricket fans are very dear to my heart," he said. "They travel well with us around the world. They are magnificent supporters. So I am here, sitting here now in front of all of them, saying that I am fully committed and passionate about playing for England."

It was an improvement on Stefan Effenberg, the German footballer whose international career effectively ended when he insulted fans during the 1994 World Cup.

Like Pietersen, who Shane Warne referred to as "The Ego", Effenberg thought no end of himself. Unlike Effenberg, whose dictionary did not include "tact", Pietersen has the ability to say all the right things while sounding contrite.

Pragmatists will say that the idea of a totally unified side is a Utopian one, that the playing field is no different from other workplaces that see clashes of wills and enforced tolerance. The dreamers, who think Flower and Andrew Strauss created a band of brothers, will disagree.

James Anderson partially revealed the real picture in a Daily Mail column. "Kevin talked about having issues within the dressing room," he wrote. "What's frustrating is that this was, literally, the first we knew about it. Kevin has mentioned nothing to us.

"From the time Kevin first announced he was quitting one-day cricket and why, we have tried to get on with things the best we could, even though there has been a lot of speculation."

Given the issues that remain unresolved, England's selectors were left with little choice. The real winners from this sorry episode are South Africa, who can now target a top six that should have both James Taylor and Jonny Bairstow.

As for Pietersen himself, it is time to reflect on the fact that you cannot hide behind words like "emotional" and "shooting from the hip" when you behave immaturely. As David Hopps wrote on Cricinfo: "There is no 'I' in team but as all good subs know there is an 'I' in Pietersen."

That I won't be centre stage at Lord's, a venue where he has scored five of his 21 centuries. The Ego has crash-landed.


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