No easy way back: Pietersen cannot deny sending texts, so England days look over
22:00 GMT, 12 August 2012
Kevin Pietersen's international career came crashing down when he would not or, more accurately, could not deny that he sent derogatory texts about his captain Andrew Strauss to players from the South Africa homeland he left behind to throw in his lot with England. Quite simply, he had to go.
So many subplots and intrigue have swirled around Pietersen in the last week that it has been difficult to pinpoint why exactly he has become so disenfranchised within the England set-up to the point where few if any of his team-mates will lament his absence from a Test they must win at Lord's this week. But clarity was thrown on the situation with a brutal efficiency by England.
Pietersen will not be missing from the final Test because he is disillusioned with the international schedules nor because he despaired of dressing room politics. He is out despite playing the innings of his life at Headingley because he has undermined the team unity that Andy Flower, Andrew Strauss and the England hierarchy place such store by. It was the final straw for a management team at the end of their tether.
Final fling Kevin Pietersen hit a marvellous 149 at Headingley earlier this month
England v South Africa, Thursday, Lord’s: Andrew Strauss (Middx, captain), James Anderson (Lancs), Jonny Bairstow (Yorks), Ian Bell (Warwicks), Tim Bresnan (Yorks), Stuart Broad (Notts), Alastair Cook (Essex), Steven Finn (Middx), Graham Onions (Durham), Matt Prior (Sussex, wkt), Graeme Swann (Notts), James Taylor (Notts), Jonathan Trott (Warwicks).
The most eventful, bizarre and truly surreal 48 hours of Pietersen's highly eventful England career culminated with the bombshell announcement at 2.30pm on Sunday that England had finally run out of patience with their gifted maverick and had decided that not even the significant weakening of their team for a must-win Test could stand in the way of their principles.
It was Sportsmail's Lawrence Booth who put a great big lion among the England pigeons on Friday when he revealed that Pietersen had sent texts to South Africa's Dale Steyn and AB De Villiers during the second Test that were critical of Strauss and had even encouraged Steyn in his efforts to dismiss the England captain. It was an explosive development.
There have been considerable attempts at spin-doctoring and back peddling by a South African management who truly did not want to get involved in the affair despite the demoralising effect it will have on their opponents but they could not deny the truth. Nor could Pietersen when the crunch came and his whole England career depended on it.
England, furious at what they saw as unforgiveable behaviour from Pietersen, immediately set about finding out the full extent of their player's disloyalty. First they approached South Africa only to be frustrated by their opponents understandable reluctance to help.
On the way out: Pietersen's criticism of Andrew Strauss was unforgivable
'It was only banter,' was the South African response with Pietersen's old nemesis Graeme Smith more wary than most of getting involved. It was even suggested by the tourists that Steyn and De Villiers were not the recipients of the incriminating texts but South Africa were arguing about semantics.
Some of them may have been sent by Pietersen to Morne Morkel, his Delhi Daredevils team-mate in his beloved Indian Premier League, with the request to pass them on. But it was Steyn and De Villiers they were aimed at.
And, in the interests of fairness, it should be pointed out that Pietersen did not criticise Andy Flower in the missives that were to come back and haunt him. He did mutter some comments about 'Mr Rules' and England's 'schoolmaster' when he spent time fraternising with the South Africans during practice at Headingley but the texts that were to bring him down were about Strauss.
Fast forward to Saturday lunchtime and one of the team-mates that Pietersen had grown so distant from decided that he should try to do his bit for the team. Matt Prior is the most selfless of cricketers, as can be seen whenever he bats, and now, off his own back, he decided to ring Pietersen to try to get to the bottom of why his team-mate had barely conversed with the England team for months.
At arm's length: Matt Prior (right) engaged in clear-the-air talks with Pietersen on Saturday
The pair spoke openly for an hour, thrashing out their differences, and Prior was content that he had made progress in clearing the air with Pietersen on behalf of and for the betterment of the England team. He then rang Andy Flower to tell him what he had done and for a while there remained genuine hope that Pietersen might be welcomed back to the fold. It was to prove disappointingly unfounded.
Now England decided to play their trump card and drew up a document asking Pietersen to declare that he had not sent any texts, tweets or any other modern mode of communication that was negative in any form about his captain and, crucially, sent during a Test that England had to win to triumph in their series against South Africa.
It remains unsigned even though Pietersen could easily have just gone along with it because there is no way the South africans were going to come out and call him a liar. The texts may have been forwarded to several members of the South African team but they have all been deleted now.
Instead Pietersen, inexplicably, took to YouTube to declare that he was making himself available for all forms of cricket and regretted much of what he had said. It was a desperate last throw of the dice of a man who knew the axe was about to fall and had decided to try to elicit public sympathy. It was doomed to fail and only raised questions about the people giving advice to Pietersen.
Airing his views: Pietersen took to YouTube in a final bid to save his England place
'I want to commit to all forms of cricket for England because I love playing for England,' said Pietersen, wearing the top of a sponsor rather than any England attire. 'I am absolutely not insisting on playing the whole of the IPL season. I am taking that back. I will come back and play the Tests against New Zealand. I have realised what's important to me. I've realised I can be happy. I can't wait to play in Straussy's 100th Test.' It is not going to happen.
The ECB knew what Pietersen planned on doing and advised him against it but he plowed on with his singular furrow, happier to take the questionable advice of someone like Piers Morgan, who then tweeted 'If England drop @kevinpp for the crucial final Test, after his u-turn tonight, then we'll know who the real villains are.' With friends like that a man truly does not need enemies.
A glance at the Mail on Sunday would have told Pietersen the full height of the mountain he had to climb to get back on proper speaking terms with his team-mates. Often you have to read between the lines in player columns in newspapers to find out what the writer truly thinks. There was no need in this offering from Jimmy Anderson, one of the players particularly distant from Pietersen along with Graeme Swann.
Distant: Jimmy Anderson and Pietersen do not see eye to eye
'Frankly, as players we do not need this distraction,' wrote Anderson, now one of the most influential voices in the England dressing room. 'The stand-off between Kevin and the ECB is not something we needed. To me it's all been going on too long. The players want this put to bed so we can concentrate on the game. No player is ever bigger than the team. To be as successful as we have been you need all 11 players pulling in the same direction.' No room for confusion there and it is fair to say Anderson's views are shared by the bulk if not all of his team-mates.
Even then England wanted to give Pietersen one last chance to jump back from the edge of the abyss and, unprecedentedly, delayed the announcement of their final Test squad by five hours to give him more time to apologise, something lacking in his YouTube performance, or clarify exactly what was said in the texts. The silence told england all they needed to know.
'Over the last three years or so the key to our success has been a team purpose, a unity in the dressing room and strong leadership by Andy Flower and Andrew Strauss,' said Hugh Morris, the quiet power behind the England throne. 'We need that on Thursday and we feel at the moment we have some issues with Kevin that we've been unable to resolve.
'Despite spending a lot of time trying to solve these issues we feel we're better served with Kevin not being at Lord's. We were keen for Kevin to make a public statement that none of these texts were derogatory towards any of the England players in any way. We haven't been able to reach an agreement on that and subsequently we go into Thursday's match with Jonny Bairstow, who is a talented player with a very bright future.
'It really is important to have an open and honest environment with each other in any team. The selectors will be considering contracts in the coming weeks and it is up to the board to have a look at this issue.'
Pietersen responded with a statement of his own, calling himself 'gutted' about the development. 'The fact is I love England and I love cricket. This episode has been demoralising for me and my family. However, none of this constitutes the end of my international career.'
Maybe Pietersen should have been careful what he wished for because it looks like a long way back from here. He could yet open the door, with England's squad for the World Twenty20 being named on Saturday, to his return with a full public apology to his team-mates. Yet the question remains – will he have the humility and the self-awareness to offer it