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There have been severe cracks in the volatile union between Kevin Pietersen and England ever since his brief spell as captain came to an acrimonious end and what has always been a marriage of convenience yesterday took a big step towards the divorce courts.
A battle of wills between Pietersen and his employers has ended with England’s star batsman gaining his long-held wish to abandon 50-over cricket, but at the expense of the Twenty20 format – at least internationally – that he sees as his long-term future.
Only the timing of Pietersen’s retirement from all limited-overs cricket, with the defence of England’s World Twenty20 crown only four months away, came as any sort of surprise. He wanted to turn his back on what he sees as the most tired of the three formats, one-day internationals, after the World Cup last year but ultimately was stopped from doing so by the implications for his central contract.
What has changed is that Pietersen secured an astonishing contract with the Delhi Daredevils of the Indian Premier League, worth a maximum of £1.3million a year, and that marked the beginning of the end of him as an England player.
In many ways he can hardly be blamed. Such are the ridiculous demands of the international schedule that something has to give for any player who sticks around for long, and Pietersen has always been adamant that it was not going to be his Indian cash-cow.
The great frustration is that the latest conflict to envelop a man whose mercurial career has been full of flashpoints will undermine England’s attempt to defend that World Twenty20 title in Sri Lanka in September.
Quite why a retirement that has been looming for 15 months could not be delayed a little longer comes down to stubbornness from both parties. But Pietersen wants to make it clear that he has not stood down from Twenty20s. It is just that England say that he cannot pick and choose and they would not select him.
Pietersen could point to the precedent set by Andrew Strauss when he ‘retired’ from Twenty20s in 2009 but was allowed to carry on in ODIs until the World Cup last year. The subtle difference is that Strauss was told he would not be picked again for short-form cricket and was permitted to say that he was standing down. Alastair Cook does not play T20 cricket, either, but he would like to.
One look at England’s 50-over schedule in the months ahead makes it clear why any father of a young son would have concerns over the time he could spend at home.
As well as one-day series against West Indies and South Africa this summer, England are also playing five games against Australia – in a non-Ashes year – and, most controversially of all, a full international against Scotland in Edinburgh between the South Africa second and third Tests. Complete madness.
Pietersen will not be there for any of them which, in theory, frees him up to play for Surrey, but it remains to be seen how often he appears at The Kia Oval. Truth is, he has little or no appetite for county cricket and has far more affinity for Delhi than Surrey.
Now he will be able to play for his third IPL side in the Champions League without any concerns over clashes with England and will hope to spend more time at IPL 6 next year, even though he will still have to return early for the first Test next summer.
Or will he? Thursday’s announcement will accelerate his Test demise and, like Chris Gayle, he will become a familiar face, not to mention a much richer one, at the various Twenty20 competitions springing up around the world. It is a question of when that happens, rather than if.
Let us hope it is later rather than sooner. Pietersen is a rare talent capable of flashes of greatness, as he again showed with a brilliant match-winning Test century against Sri Lanka in Colombo two months ago.
At moments like that you feel bad for ever criticising a man who can also be an exasperating talent and still manages to divide opinion more than any other in the England team.
I was moved to call him “dumber than the dumbest person from Dumbfordshire” when he gave his wicket away at a crucial point of the first Test against Pakistan in Dubai, for heaven’s sake. But we have all learned to live with the rough of Pietersen because the smooth is so aesthetically pleasing. Approaching his 32nd birthday, Pietersen insists he still wants to score 10,000 Test runs and score 30 Test centuries. I sincerely hope he means it because I want to watch him do just that.
Then again, he also sat in a small room at the ICC academy ground in Dubai during England training on that same tour of the United Arab Emirates earlier this year and said he wanted to play 50-over cricket until the next World Cup in 2015. It did not ring true then and it certainly does not now.
Hugh Morris, the most diplomatic and mild-mannered of administrators in public, on Thursday said he was ‘disappointed’ by the timing of this development which, in Morris-speak, is close to total apoplexy and indicates that feelings are running high at Lord’s.
Yet, Andy Flower is nothing if not pragmatic and knows England are a better team with Pietersen in it. There will be no desire to show him the door before next year’s back-to-back Ashes series, however uneasy the peace, especially as he is at the peak of his powers.
That peak was emphasised by centuries in each of his last two one-day innings. Sadly, it will now be spent in colours other than the blue of England.
“After a great deal of thought and deliberation, I am today announcing my retirement from international one-day cricket. With the intensity of the international schedule and the increasing demands on my body, approaching 32, I think it is the right time to step aside and let the next generation of players come through to gain experience for the ICC World Cup in 2015. I am immensely proud of my achievements in the one-day game and still wish to be considered for selection for England in Test cricket.” – Daily Mail