London – This has to be it now. Sadly, it cannot go on any more. This Ashes humiliation must be the end of the road for one of the most outrageously talented, controversial, divisive and pure box-office talents English cricket has ever known. We should never see Kevin Pietersen in an England shirt again.
There seems no way back for Pietersen now. Not unless a new managing director of England in Paul Downton goes against the wishes not just of his coach Andy Flower but also the captain in Alastair Cook when he conducts his internal review into the most humiliating Ashes defeat in the nation’s history.
This is not personal. How can it be when I have been privileged enough to be present for the majority of Pietersen’s 23 Test hundreds and marvelled at the sheer skill and audacity of the bulk of them?
From the outrageous way Pietersen saved the final Test at The Oval in 2005 to clinch the Ashes to the breathtaking quality of the century at Mumbai last winter that set up an historic Indian Test series triumph, he has held us spellbound over a thrilling nine-year ride with many twists and turns.
But enough’s enough. Pietersen must go for the good of English cricket because we have really suffered in Australia and he has been a divisive influence in a dressing room that must be cleansed of disruptive presences before it moves on.
I am not saying this because of Pietersen’s reaction to the Daily Mail’s coverage of his fall-out with Flower. He tweeted that I was telling lies but deep down he must know that I’m not.
Yes, for the record, there were times during this Ashes when Flower considered disciplining Pietersen for poor behaviour and, yes, patience is wearing thin about his attitude towards practice matches and his general attitude in the dressing room, where he can set a bad example.
It is one of the truisms of sport that a multitude of sins can be forgiven if a player is performing well and winning matches for his team. That has been the case largely with Pietersen – even after the text scandal of 2012 when he was allowed back into the side at the instigation of new captain Cook. It was against the better judgment of Flower and now it is the coach who has been proved right.
Pragmatism goes out of the window when results nosedive. The uneasy peace that has existed between Pietersen, his coach and his team-mates has evaporated now that England are a laughing stock and the post mortem has begun. This is not just an issue for Flower. It is an issue for English cricket.
It was significant that Flower talked about England having to experience ‘a bit of pain’ before they get better in the aftermath of the 5-0 shocker. For there is no doubt that if Downton and the ECB accept recommendations to cut ties with Pietersen now, then England will be weaker in the short term.
How can they not be when they lose a player who has been good enough to score 8,000 Test runs?
Pietersen’s apologists will be howling if and when England’s young guns struggle against India this summer after the man they have jettisoned has scored runs aplenty for the Delhi Daredevils, or whoever becomes his main employer.
But that is when England will have to hold firm because what we are seeing now is a PR exercise from Pietersen and his supporters to make him look the victim of this piece. Then, if he is perceived as such, he can ride off into a Twenty20 sunset with his conscience clear and England apparently the poorer.
Yet they will be stronger in the long term. I am convinced of that. Pietersen is nearing 34 and is finding it harder and harder to just ‘switch it on’ when the big series arrive.
His body is hurting and if he is not scoring at least one big hundred every Test series then there is little point putting up with his many shortcomings.
I was accused of being a Pietersen apologist once. I helped him write his first book and defended him when he called for the head of former England coach Peter Moores in another of these storms that have punctuated his career far too often. I was blinded by his brilliance and thought he would become a brilliant England captain. I was very wrong.
His captaincy, like so many other Pietersen episodes, all too soon ended in tears. He has fallen out with significant people wherever he has gone and they cannot all be wrong. This is one crisis too many. A new England has to be built around a core of senior players who really, really want what’s best for the team.
Those who are prepared to be in this for the long haul and are also prepared to give up any pretensions to earning a quick buck in the Indian Premier League. I don’t think Pietersen is prepared to do that. His time has come.
Paul Downton is supposed to be a brilliantly smooth but firm operator. Let him bring the England career of Kevin Pietersen to an end as painlessly and as cleanly as possible. It really is for the best.
Follow Paul on twitter on @newman_cricket