On Thursday morning as the third Test between England and South Africa got underway at Lord’s, the elephant in the Long Room was unavoidable. As the brilliant George Dobell put it, Kevin Pietersen’s absence would not have been more palpable if an image of the world’s most divisive cricketer took the place of Old Father Time on the weathervane atop the Mound Stand.
Thankfully, an enthralling contest between the world’s top two five-day sides allowed some respite from an utterly ignominious saga. Despite some admirable resistance from the hosts, Graeme Smith deservedly usurped the summit. His Proteas, packed with some of the best performers of this generation, are deserved successors to Andrew Strauss’ side. It would be an awful shame to forget that.
Leading from the front with an unwavering will to win, Smith sets the tone as a rock-solid skipper and exceptionally charismatic man-manager. An immensely talented engine room follows – the trio of Jacques Kallis, Hashim Amla and AB de Villiers should, perhaps only in retrospect some years from now, be revered on a level with the Indian juggernaut of Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar and VVS Laxman.
Then comes a precociously balanced seam threesome, each member of which complements the next superbly. Between Morné Morkel’s awkward bounce, Dale Steyn’s skiddy speed and the gracious guile of Vernon Philander, many batsmen have met their demise. Many victims are still to perish, too.
Whereas England’s coronation a year ago sparked a fanfare of hyperbolic praise and overwhelming adulation, South Africa’s feat has – on these shores at least – been swiftly cast aside. Far more interesting, apparently, is KP’s rollercoaster of emotions, which reached rock-bottom yesterday with the confirmation of his omission from the 15-man squad to defend the World Twenty20 title in Sri Lanka this autumn.
Now, amidst a few barbs from Andy Flower about the influence of the IPL on Pietersen’s ego, it seems as though Sunday has been set aside for Strauss to sit down with his black sheep for a drink in the last chance saloon. No doubt a certain set of cretinous text messages, allegedly branding his captain a ‘doos’ – Afrikaans for c*** – will be top of the agenda.
Sadly, that is as straightforward as the shoot-out will get. From there, the issue will be clouded by contractual considerations as Pietersen, understandably, seeks to secure his future under the ECB’s lucrative wing. Though twenty-over forays around the world will pay handsomely, the retention of a central contract will provide the best of both worlds – fulfilment of his financial needs and appeasement of a desire to represent England on the biggest stage.
What clouds this whole argument further is Strauss’ precarious position. Granted, he is extremely well respected in an efficient set-up under Flower and has just reached the glorious milestone of 100 Tests, but he is also in poor form and hasn’t managed enough runs to be a shoo-in at the top of the order for the team’s next assignment against India in Ahmedabad this September. Put simply – whisper in case that buffoon Piers Morgan hears and feels justified – I would much rather bolster my batting line-up with Pietersen.
The bizarre chain of events that has lead to such a monstrous mess – a fake Twitter account, mobile phone mishaps and an excruciatingly staged video interview – is unmistakeably new-age. As Michael Atherton suggested at the end of last week, a more prehistoric method may be best to clear the air.
Asked how such an episode would have been resolved in the Lancashire dressing room of the late 1980s – filled with uncompromising characters like Paul Allot and Phil DeFreitas – Atherton hardly needed a second’s thought.
“Well, somebody would have got a clout,” came the predictable response, mirroring the views of Shane Warne in The Sun just yesterday.
Unfortunately, the Pietersen-England web has probably become too tangled for such a simple course of action. Besides, a hungry pack of journalists would have a field day if either party appeared in public sporting a black eye. However, in the interests of cricket on these shores, straight talking is imperative. Ideally, the hatchet must be buried, a fine thrown out and KP reinstated. Let’s leave this farce behind.
Follow Charlie Morgan on Twitter: @CharlieFelix