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Andy Flower yesterday laid bare the full extent of the sense of betrayal England feel at Kevin Pietersen and made it clear there may be no way back for him.
The very real possibility of Pietersen never playing for England again became apparent as Flower confirmed that the rift between the renegade and the national team runs deep and is no nearer to being resolved.
As it emerged that Andrew Strauss, the man at the centre of the ‘provocative’ texts sent to South Africa players, might meet up with Pietersen to thrash out their differences on Sunday, the door to a reconciliation remained firmly shut.
‘There are a number of unresolved issues and it is not something that can be done overnight if we are to go about this properly,’ said Flower. ‘For a start we need to find out exactly what was in these text messages. But this is not just about them. This is not just an issue between the captain and Kevin Pietersen.’
Clearly the breakdown between Pietersen and the England team, which has been developing all season, reached crisis point when Sportsmail revealed the existence of the texts sent by the batsman during the second Test.
In them, we understand, the 32-year-old refers to Strauss as a ‘doos’, a derogatory Afrikaans term, and encourages Dale Steyn to ‘nick him off’ when talking about the captain. But suggestions he also criticised Flower and told the South Africans to go round the wicket are believed to be untrue.
The England team director has no doubts about their seriousness but accepts that, with the texts having almost certainly been deleted, it might be difficult to find out exactly what they contained.
‘That is one of the issues we have to address,’ said Flower. ‘I’m not sure what the best way to investigate this is, to be honest. It’s always nice to be up front and honest. I think face to face, man to man, where you can look people in the eye is the best way to resolve most issues. Using PR agencies and leaking information is not the best way to go about things.’
That was a criticism of Pietersen’s half-hearted apology for the affair, which he sent ‘via his agent to the ECB’ and the gifted maverick’s decision to take to YouTube to give his side of the story and ‘unretire’ from one-day cricket.
There are clearly no regrets about dropping Pietersen for the third Test on the back of the text scandal. ‘We try to make decisions that are in the best interests of the England team or English cricket,’ insisted Flower (below). ‘That is what I’ve tried to do since I joined this team and that is what I will continue to do.’
Yet do the England management or players deserve any blame for a desperately sad state of affairs that sees one of the world’s best batsmen exiled from international cricket? ‘I’m happy to take responsibility for some issues but I don’t think text messages from an England player to South Africa players with some of the content I’ve heard is in them is my responsibility.
‘One of the issues I could have handled better is when I heard some players were occasionally looking at that Twitter account (the Pietersen parody). I could have nipped that in the bud earlier. But let’s be clear on the severity of this situation. There is one thing having a giggle at Twitter, but some of the issues that we have seen are quite another.’
Pietersen, as expected, was yesterday left out of England’s one-day and World Twenty20 squads and he faces a race against time if he is to clear his name to earn any sort of new central contract next month, or be included in the Test squad to travel to India. His best hope is that time could be a healer and he will be considered for England again in the new year.
Might this be the end? ‘I would rather not speculate on that,’ said Flower. ‘But (Pietersen) was speculating on that during a Test series so I suppose there’s a chance it’s the end.’ He is sure, though, that if a resolution cannot be reached, there will be life after Pietersen for England and they can regain their No 1 status in world cricket without him.
The better news is that Flower remains convinced that Strauss, who looked drained at the end of England’s 2-0 Investec Test series defeat by South Africa, will carry on as captain.
‘It’s been a hard series and that, together with these peripheral issues, have left him very wearied,’ said Flower. ‘He’s done the right thing getting away with his family and he will come back strong.’
Stuart Broad, whose pace was down against South Africa, has been left out of the 50-over series that starts in Cardiff on Friday to rest and undertake a strength and conditioning programme. He will be back to lead England in the three Twenty20 internationals and for the World Twenty20 in Sri Lanka.
Ravi Bopara is back, even though Flower admitted his domestic issues have not been fully resolved. The Essex batsman will guest for Gloucestershire today in their 50-over game against South Africa at Bristol. – Daily Mail