- England's Pietersen dilemma
Pietersen dropped for third Test
Kevin Pietersen has been omitted from the England squad for the final Test against South Africa at Lord's, the morning after releasing a video where he committed himself to all international cricket, because he has failed to confirm that he did not send derogatory texts about Andrew Strauss and Andy Flower to South Africa players.
It was an allegation, according to England's managing director, Hugh Morris, that unless unproven undermined "a unity of purpose and trust." Pietersen made no reference to the text messages in his video apology. A five-hour delay in naming the squad was to give Pietersen the chance to confirm the content of the messages which he did not do.
Presumably he did send them and if South Africa leaked the fact they have now contributed to the removal of the England player they most fear.
A few hours after his omission, Pietersen released a brief statement. "None of this constitutes the end of my career as an international cricketer," he said. "To say I am gutted is an understatement... The entire episode has been demoralising for me and my family.
"The video I released was my way to bring closure to the issues I had at that time. I stand by every word I said in the video. I wish the team - and Straussy in particular - every success next week."
By dropping Pietersen, and dropping him in such an uncompromising manner, England have restated the absolute importance of the team ethic and will convince themselves that they have done all they can to avoid the circus that would have taken place if Pietersen had remained in England's Test side.
But the circus is in town, in any event - and the lack of England's No. 1 celebrity cricketer is likely to be just as controversial.
It is Jonny Bairstow, who had an uncomfortable Test baptism against West Indies earlier this summer, and who returns in place of Pietersen after a century for England Lions against Australia A, who will bear the brunt of it.
England squad for Lord's
- Andrew Strauss, Alastair Cook, Jonathan Trott, Ian Bell, James Taylor, Jonny Bairstow, Matt Prior, Tim Bresnan, Stuart Broad, Graeme Swann, James Anderson, Steven Finn, Graham Onions
Pietersen will now have to wait to see if he is selected in England's 15 for World Twenty20 in Sri Lanka next month. That squad has yet to be announced, but that deadline is fast approaching and if he was critical of the likes of Andrew Strauss, his captain, and Andy Flower, the director of cricket, as has been alleged, then after a disastrous week Pietersen still has an awful lot of apologising to do.
England's insistence that the game is bigger than the individual, central to their rise (however temporarily) to No. 1 in all three formats of the game, has been impressed in the most rigorous manner imaginable. Pietersen's YouTube apology could hardly have been more clearly expressed, but even that video, published it seems without any prior warning to the ECB, seems to have gone down badly in high places.
Hugh Morris, managing director of England Cricket, said in a pre-prepared statement: "During the past week we have had several discussions with Kevin Pietersen and his advisers. Following a constructive meeting, it was agreed that a number of actions needed to be completed to re-engage Kevin within the England dressing room.
"A fundamental item was to confirm publicly that no derogatory texts had been sent by Kevin to the South African team. This has not been forthcoming despite clear timelines being set to allow the selectors to pick the squad for the third Investec Test match.
"We provided an additional six hours this morning to provide every opportunity for agreement to be reached but regrettably this has not been possible.
"The success of the England team has been built on a unity of purpose and trust. Whilst we have made every attempt to find a solution to enable Kevin to be selected we have sadly had to conclude that, in the best interest of the team, he will miss the Lord's Test."
England gave no live interviews to justify their stance, a growing tendency among the ECB hierarchy that is bringing increasing disquiet.
Geoff Miller, the national selector, avoided reference to Pietersen entirely, merely stating: "We need a squad fully focussed on this Test match to be able to play the sort of cricket we know is necessary if we are to win this week and level the series.
"The second Investec Test was a marked improvement on our performance at the start of the series but we are aware we will need to play some very good cricket this week if we are to level this series. There is plenty of international experience amongst this squad and they will all be determined to play to their full potential this week."
Pietersen attempted a career-saving performance in keeping with his flamboyant on-field displays by unconditionally committing himself to play for England in all formats of the game and apologising for the media conference that led to speculation about dressing room rifts and his premature retirement.
"I want to commit to all forms of cricket for England because I love playing for England," Pietersen said. "I am wanting to play all three forms of cricket again for England: the ODIs against South Africa in a couple of weeks and the T20 World Cup if I am selected. I want to make myself available for every single format of cricket for England.
But after putting back their squad announcement by five hours, to 2.30pm, England's selectors announced a squad without Pietersen, seeking stability and what they deemed normal behaviour above all other considerations.
Pietersen may now be expected to serve his penance for Surrey in the final stages of the County Championship, a return to the roots of English first-class cricket for which he has rarely shown much affection, with the prospect that he will be considered for England's tour of India later this year if he proves himself in a fit state to tour.
It might be a boon for Surrey who, troubled by the tragic death of Tom Maynard and grief-stricken resignation from the captaincy of Rory Hamilton-Brown, are in danger of relegation. It will be a character test for Pietersen that he will not welcome.
"I've realised what is important to be," Pietersen said in his YouTube appearance. "I've realised I can be happy. I've realised how much I love playing for England. I've realised that the last three or four days would be a sad way to go after all the happiness I've enjoyed. I'd hate to leave playing for England and I'd hate to leave all the spectators and fans this way.
"I am fully committed and passionate about playing for England. I want to play for England. That is why I want to get back playing in all three formats of the game for England. I love doing what I do and I don't want to disappoint people.
But that realisation has not brought automatic forgiveness. As much as he said "I can't wait to play in Straussy's 100th Test next week" that is one century he will elude him. As for England, if they do manage to break South Africa's hold and claim the victory to level the series, never will the basics of team unity have been expressed more forcefully.
Squad: Andrew Strauss, Alastair Cook, Jonathan Trott, Ian Bell, James Taylor, Jonny Bairstow, Matt Prior, Tim Bresnan, Stuart Broad, Graeme Swann, James Anderson, Steven Finn, Graham Onions