Kevin Pietersen is one of the greatest batsmen to strap on pads for England. He has 8,181 Test runs, 23 centuries and, as his own special mark of distinction, the initials KP separate him from duller teammates.
KP is also full of self-importance, 6ft 5in of hubris, a cricketer whose belief in his own greatness is beyond calculation. He topped the run chart as England crashed to a 5-0 defeat by Australia. There is no doubt about his personal charisma or his potential to lead a revival, if one is possible after this Ashes catastrophe.
Yet there are clear signs that England’s coach Andy Flower believes — despite his fervent denials this week — that the team may be better off without KP.
Perhaps it is not surprising. Pietersen is not a team-man, he sees the game mainly as a route by which he may be remembered long after he retires. He believes he was captain for all too short a time and wishes he might be again. His regard for his own skills does not fit with Flower’s desire for disciplined team work, and, I suspect he has little time for men he sees as midgets in the shadow of his own giant image.
So he and Flower — who is neither a fool nor a coward because he was the great Zimbabwe batsman-wicketkeeper who defied President Mugabe and had to leave his country and restart his cricket career in Essex — have, I suspect, been at loggerheads whether England has been winning or losing.
Now hints are being dropped that this uneasy liaison cannot continue. Flower sees this astonishing defeat — England began as favourite, had Australia on its knees but somehow lost its grip five times — as a way to lose KP and to start again with more biddable young cricketers.
England and Wales Cricket Board officials seem to think that Flower not Pietersen is the right man to lead a revival. (I wonder if anyone can perform this miracle. I have seen England lose three times previously by 5-0 but never before seen it turned inside out. It was not just beaten in Brisbane, Adelaide, Perth, Melbourne and Sydney; it was crushed as if it had been overrun by a World War II Panzer attack.)
When there is a stand-off between two contenders in any sport, it is often possible to find a simple question that decides the outcome.
Let me try. Tell me — who would you pay to watch? The cavalier KP, whether he succeeds or fails, whether he hits the ball into the farthest stand or is bowled in the attempt, whether his hair is black or blond, whether he is captain or middle order batsman nursing the strike, backing his partner and heading for yet another big score?
Maybe you would rather watch Flower coach, offer subtle advice to his captain, murmur congratulations, offer gentle suggestions to the Board about the direction of the team, map tactics, and search out strategy.
I suggest that KP, the showman, the potential match-winner in front of 92,000 howling Australians, the batsman most likely to achieve the unlikely, is the cricketer to draw a crowd, to produce memorable batting, to win a Test match.
I make no bones about it. I would rather see KP in charge, taking risks, leading on a white charger, taunting the Aussies, telling his men “Up Guards and at ‘em” like Wellington at Waterloo.
I fear the greater political skills of Flower may win the day and that one morning we will awake and find KP is no longer part of the England side. More’s the pity.
I fear the greater political skills of Flower may win, writes Ted Corbett