Kevin Pietersen is not a man who minces his words often. He recently claimed that he “deserved to play for England again” and after hitting 355* for Surrey in a County Championship match, you might think that he has a point.
Andrew Strauss, on the other hand, doesn’t. Strauss has, for now, closed the door on Kevin Pietersen’s return to English cricket, a decision which is incorrect.
In any other situation, a cricketer who was the all-time leading run scorer for his country, who has just scored 355* and then claimed to be in the best form of his career, would be guaranteed a spot in the team. He would be the first name on the team sheet.
On form alone, Kevin Pietersen should play for England. There is no doubting that. Yet Strauss cited “trust issues” as the main reason behind denying Pietersen a place in the team.
At first glance, this is fair enough. Pietersen was involved in the aptly named ‘textgate’ scandal, in which he was accused of sending text messages to South African players containing information about England’s tactics.
Pietersen then went on to write his controversial autobiography in which he continued to avoid mincing his words, claiming that there was a culture of bullying inside the England dressing room, which he labelled as “horrifying” and “hugely disturbing”.
However, in recent months, Pietersen appears to have repaired some old wounds. After Colin Graves, the incoming ECB chairman, left the door open for Pietersen’s return, saying that he should return to County Cricket and score some runs, Pietersen did exactly that.
He ditched the IPL, made his way to Surrey, donated his wages to charity and played himself into devastatingly good form. Furthermore, in a Telegraph article that Pietersen wrote at the end of March, he revealed that he regularly speaks to members of the squad.
Pietersen’s actions in recent months can only be seen as a sign of commitment. A sign that he is desperate to play cricket for England again, something that he has alluded to on more than one occasion. Surely a player who has done everything the incoming ECB chairman has asked of him, scoring a triple century in the process, deserves to be recalled?
Well, not according to Strauss. There are still “trust issues”, despite Pietersen’s best efforts to leave the past behind. Although, an unusual twist to this tale saw Strauss offer Pietersen an “advisory role” with the ODI team. Now my issue with this is that an element of trust is required in order to place someone in an advisory role. So why Strauss trusts Pietersen enough to advise him, yet not enough to select him, baffles me.
Strauss has said that the offer was made as a way of “repairing trust” with Pietersen. However, an offer to help advise Strauss, a man who referred to Pietersen as an “absolute c**t” while commentating live on air, doesn’t seem like the ideal way to repair trust.
The way that Strauss can repair the situation with Pietersen is to select him for the team. He needs to dive straight in the deep end, be bold and let Pietersen return. However, it strikes me that diving straight in the deep end and being bold isn’t really the ECB’s style.
Some might argue that Strauss’ decision has been made with one eye on building a team for the future and giving more opportunities to young players. These are two aims that I believe the ECB should strive for. Yet, they can strive for these goals and select Pietersen.
In the same Telegraph article, Pietersen referred to the career of Kumar Sangakarra, a man who is in his late-thirties and still scoring bucket loads of runs. Pietersen can do this too. He has at least three to four years of Test cricket still left in him. He can be a part of the long term future of English cricket, both on and off the field.
Furthermore, having someone with the experience of Pietersen in the dressing room can only benefit the development of these young players. He has done it all and in the process, provided some great memories for fans of English cricket.
There is no denying that he can be an arrogant so-and-so, in my opinion, all the best competitors are. Yes, there is the risk that he could do something stupid like the ‘textgate’ scandal again, of course there is. Yet he has committed himself to getting back in this England team, which is an indication that he is unlikely to repeat his past mistakes.
Pietersen is worth the risk. He is in spectacular form. By refusing to select Pietersen for the foreseeable future, Strauss has made the first big mistake in his new job as Director of English cricket. A mistake that in my eyes, sends out a telling indication of the state that English cricket is in at the moment.