Kevin Pietersen: The elephant in the room
The great Shakespearean line from Hamlet ‘to be, or not to be, that is the question’ can easily be rephrased into ‘to pick, or not to be, that is the question’ in the context England’s squad selection dilemma for the ICC World T20.
The key protagonists at the center of a potential controversy that could rock England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) are the same as they have been since 2012 – Andrew Strauss and Kevin Pietersen.
The dynamics between them may have changed from former colleagues to employer-employee now, but the narrative of their fractured, even irreparable, relationship could envelop England cricket once again.
Strauss, now director of cricket, has done a commendable job since taking over in 2015. While many believe his treatment of KP was appalling, the former opener’s stand of keeping the door shut on England’s highest run scorer was vindicated after Alastair Cook’s side captured the Ashes and beat the Proteas in their own backyard.
Yet Strauss finds himself answering the same question that refuses to die down, tackling the problem that just does not seem and go away and talking about the same person who must not be named in England’s cricketing circles.
Pietersen, as everybody has come to know over the years, has a sense for the dramatic. His penchant for spotlight and seizing moments of magnitude is unmatched at least in his adopted country. Unlike cricketers from the country of his birth, KP rarely chokes but instead pulls out all stops to make things happen on the grand occasion.
His unbeaten 326-run knock against Leicestershire at the Oval just a day before Strauss' first media interaction as team director being one such instance. Though a career best triple ton failed to secure selection, KP’s exploits in the Big Bash League now have him knocking on the ECB door yet again.
Few days after failing at the final hurdle with his Melbourne Stars in the BBL, KP wrote a column in the Telegraph titled, “I would absolutely love to play for England at the World Twenty20”.
The crux of Pietersen’s words was that he is in wonderful form and batting as good as ever. He went on to claim that his newfound love for golf helped improve his bat swing. There was neither any bombast nor an attempt to settle scores with anyone like he did in his autobiography.
KP has made his point loud and clear, sending a reminder to the England management by piling on the runs in the winter. In 16 T20 matches, he has accumulated 724 runs (2x100s, 6x50s) at an average of 55 and strike rate of 167. If these numbers come up for discussion during a selection meeting, nobody would dare argue against them.
KP was not just in top form but also in complete command of his body and mind. From the switch hit to an upgraded version of the MS Dhoni's helicopter shot, the batting arsenal of one of cricket's greatest showmen was on full display.
Yet there is a rare chance of a mature conversation happening inside the ECB boardroom regarding Pietersen’s selection. For now the possibility of a handshake between the two sides to let bygone be bygones for a three-week period in India seems unlikely.
Should KP on that plane to India? Absolutely, says Michael Vaughan. He will? No, concedes the Ashes winning skipper.
But the reality is KP has now modeled himself into the perfect horse for the T20 course. While the flamboyant right-hander might never admit is that he no longer has the drive to put in the hard yards needed to play all three formats for his country.
KP loves the T20 life, lending his name to budding twenty-over brands be it in Pakistan, South Africa or Australia. At this age and stage in life, big money for Pietersen is only a byproduct of his ability to hit the ball out of cricket venues.
But the key reason why KP is seduced by cricket's shortest format is the fewer number of working hours, which give his body enough time to recuperate and be at its optimum best for the next day.
He has been there, done that, got the t-shirt and has nothing left to prove. He no longer has the desire to audition for an England slot by playing against county cricket bowlers.
KP has moved on, partly. England have moved on completely, at least in the Tests and ODIs.
But the 35-year-old year still yearns for a closure. How can England batting's greatest career just be chucked under a bus, is the question he probably asks himself every night.
While he is no Sachin Tendulkar or even a Kumar Sangakkara, the enormity of his career’s numbers deserves to be celebrated if not paid a tribute to.
Which is why his gaze is fixed firmly on the World T20. At ICC's showpiece event, KP senses the fitting farewell he could gift himself.
Batting against spin is clearly the primary weakness of most England batsmen in limited-overs cricket.
Having overcome his demons while facing left-arm spin, KP laid to rest fears of him being just one among the other English lads.
His ticking that box not only means he is the best player of spin in the Three Lions' ranks but also the most experienced on Indian soil.
KP could be the difference between England participating and competing in the World Cup in March. Now it’s only the small matter of picking him in the team, which brings us to where we started.
With obvious truth being ignored and the actual issue going unaddressed, KP remains persona non grata for the England management.