London – There were times on Wednesday during a surreal 10 minutes in a Colombo hotel when it seemed the subject of discussion was a mass murderer released from prison on parole rather than a cricketer who had fallen out with his teammates.
Giles Clarke sounded more like a High Court judge than the ECB chairman when he declared: “In our society we believe that when an individual transgresses and then apologises it is important that they should be given a real opportunity to be reintegrated into our society.” In other words, Kevin Pietersen should be back playing cricket for England again soon.
It was expected on Wednesday that Clarke would announce Pietersen had signed a new central contract and would be added to the Test squad for the tour of India after saying sorry for the dispute that has cast a cloud over England.
It turned out to be more complicated than that. The contract is initially for four months, effectively putting him on trial, while Pietersen will be expected to undertake a series of dashes to and from South Africa over the next three weeks to thrash out his differences before he is allowed back into the team. An independent disputes conciliator may even be involved.
Pietersen will still probably be back around the start of that India tour, or even the training camp in Dubai that precedes it, but it seems that the ECB will make him jump through a few more hoops first. They may be prepared to forgive but they are not going to forget his indiscretions just yet.
The full extent of those indiscretions remains a mystery as neither Clarke nor Pietersen, unlikely bedfellows thrown together for the final throes of this bitter saga, were prepared to say just how it came to this in a gathering at which just three questions were allowed. “We are not going to discuss archeology,” said Clarke enigmatically when asked to talk about the past.
This was the conclusion, for now, to two months of rancour and intrigue sparked by the “provocative” BlackBerry messenger texts Pietersen sent to South Africa players during the Headingley Test, the tipping point of his disengagement from the England team.
Talks have been going on almost ever since but it was not until Clarke and Pietersen spent two-and-a-half hours together on Wednesday that we found ourselves listening to Pietersen’s apology and his insistence he wants to be an England player again in all formats for the next three years. He also wants to see his son Dylan play for England.
If it was all about a “reintegration process” it was also about pragmatism. Andy Flower, we were told, not only supported the moves to get Pietersen back but instigated them. The senior players who have privately given the impression they would rather have a mass murderer in their ranks than Pietersen are now apparently happy, or at least resigned, to having him back and want that sooner rather than later.
They are a better team with him and would improve their chances of winning in India if he were rushed back. The players do not want to lose without Pietersen while hearing all the while from his chums such as Piers Morgan that things would be so different if KP were there.
So there is every chance now that he will line up in Ahmedabad on November 15 rather than delaying his entrance until the much more winnable tour of New Zealand in February. That way the ‘big man’ will not be perceived to be riding to England’s rescue after another setback. If England are going to be beaten in India they want it to be with Pietersen, not without him. Cynical, maybe, but understandable.
Before that happens Pietersen must ensure he does not put his foot in it when he flies from the Champions League in South Africa, where he will be playing for Delhi, to meet those players and management he has upset most. If a fly has to choose a wall to visit while those talks take place, it would be advised to make it Graeme Swann’s.
It will be a fragile peace but it is worth all the effort if it truly means Pietersen is committed in all formats and does not want to have his Indian Premier League cake while eating all the goodies that come from a lucrative central contract.
He has behaved poorly and erratically but he is too good to abandon and England are not good enough to turn their backs on him. They need each other whether they like it or not. Can things be the same? “Definitely,” insisted Pietersen even though, in truth, things have never been quite the same for him with England since he was effectively sacked as captain by the man who sat to his right on Wednesday.
The body language between Clarke and Pietersen was fascinating, the chairman in one of his best silk suits brimming with defiance and the outcast not quite dressed in sackcloth but looking a little uncomfortable.
There was the odd half-smile towards the press – or the ECB toadies as his supporters call us – from Pietersen and he stumbled over some of his statement.
It is not clear whether Pietersen accepts he has erred — remember, he said it was not easy being him in the England dressingroom – but he was indignant over suggestions he offered tactical advice to South Africa. Even so, he will drop legal action against two newspapers which suggested he did so.
Those missives have not been seen by the ECB and never will be now as they have disappeared into the ether, but Clarke says that he has a “binding assurance” from Pietersen that, while they may have been provocative, they were not derogatory.
That was enough to secure Wednesday’s deal. Only time will tell whether everyone concerned truly can put the “archeology” behind them and dig themselves out of a rather large hole. This is far from the end of the search for a satisfactory solution. – Daily Mail