Why is Kevin Pietersen’s name back in the spotlight?
Colin Graves, the incoming chairman of the England and Wales Cricket Board, said on Sunday that Kevin Pietersen’s best chance of an international return, following his sacking in February last year, was to force the hands of the selectors through a weight of runs in county cricket. Such a comment, coming after England’s defeat to Sri Lanka in the World Cup, gave the appearance of a softening of the ECB’s stance towards its former player. It also put the issue of Pietersen’s international exile back into his court.
Why was he sacked by England in the first place?
The England managing director, Paul Downton, ended Pietersen’s nine-year international career following the disastrous 5-0 Ashes defeat in Australia and running problems with the then England coach, Andy Flower. An unattributed statement at the time insisted the ECB “must invest in our captain Alastair Cook” and “support him in creating a culture in which we can be confident he will have the full support of all players, with everyone pulling in the same direction and able to trust each other”. The ECB, through Downton and the selector James Whitaker, have scotched any talk of a return since.
Did Graves really mean to say a comeback was possible?
That Graves said these words to both BBC Radio 5 Live and the Telegraph suggests he was not simply caught on the backfoot by one media outlet. But an ECB statement that followed on Sunday night sought to clarify his comments, insisting “nothing had changed” and only players who brought a “positive influence” would be selected by England. The Yorkshireman was also in agreement with the decision to sack Pietersen last year in his role as the ECB deputy chairman but is now looking to make a fresh start for English cricket along with the newly-installed chief executive, Tom Harrison.
What obstacles stand in the way of his return to international cricket?
Without a county contract following his release from Surrey at the end of last season, Pietersen is currently ineligible to play for England. His appeal to a club is lessened by his pre-existing deals to play in the Indian Premier League until the end of May and the Caribbean Premier League in June and July. The counties have also seen the salary cap cut by 10% this season, although Pietersen insists money would not be a stumbling block. The ECB’s Downton and Whitaker, who orchestrated his sacking, remain in their positions, as does the coach, Peter Moores, who saw his first spell in charge ended by a breakdown in his working relationship with the then-captain Pietersen in early 2009. The senior side’s poor results naturally leave all three vulnerable however.
Would he be welcomed back into the England set-up?
Flower, now ECB technical director, and the wicketkeeper Matt Prior, the main targets in Pietersen’s incendiary book published last October, are no longer in place while Giles Clarke, the ECB chairman with whom he also clashed during his England career, makes way for Graves in May. But the Test captain Alastair Cook, who was also present when Pietersen was sacked, would be doubtful to welcome his return, while the fast bowler Stuart Broad may also have reservations after Pietersen described him as “not being the sharpest”. However, the current squad contains a number of players brought into the fold since his sacking.
Would any county be keen to take him on?
Logistics have proved a sticking point in the past, with Pietersen leaving Hampshire to play for Surrey due to a desire to be in London. A subsequent move to live in Berkshire should bring increased flexibility. Surrey, who Pietersen last played for in this country, publicly distanced themselves from a deal on Sunday afternoon based on his previous assertion of only wanting to play Twenty20 cricket. Greater availability and the prospect of championship cricket could prompt a rethink. Somerset are now coached by Matthew Maynard, who worked with Pietersen at St Lucia last year, and could also be a decent fit.
Can he still cut it at international level?
Fourteen months have passed since Pietersen last played international cricket, before which his returns were diminishing. His decision to play as a Twenty20 specialist since losing his England contract has not proved spectacular, only his recent spell for Melbourne Stars in Australia’s Big Bash League – where he finished the second-highest run scorer with 293 in eight innings – has been a success.
How likely is a return?
Bookmakers have put an England comeback as low as 3-1 since news of Colin Graves’ comments broke but the possibility looks more remote in reality. A full change of team management – head coach, national selector, managing director and possibly Test captain – would surely need to take place, along with Pietersen picking up a county contract and scoring the significant amount of runs required to merit the return of such a controversial figure who will turn 35 this summer.
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