England had to make someone the sacrificial lamb and Kevin Pietersen, once again, finds himself at the receiving end of Andy Flowers ire.
Things were going smoothly for England till they were rattled by fast bowler Mitchell Johnson.In just five Tests, Johnson has grounded England to dust.
Flower has contributed immensely to England cricket as team director. He guided the team to three Ashes victories, a series win in India and to the number one spot in the ICC Test rankings. England went Down Under as favourites and such tame display was utterly unexpected. Quite natural that Flower is in the eye of the storm.
But why Pietersen again Yes, the senior batsman was expected to lead Englands batting against Australia with his class and temperament, and he failed to do that. Just 294 runs at 29.40 is certainly not Pietersen-like, but it was a collective failure and it would be grossly unjustified to single out an individual.
Except for a couple of innings from Ian Bell and Ben Stokes, no one could rise above mediocrity which led to Englands downfall. But theyre too strong a cricket force not to recover from this. Things must be put in perspective.
England need regeneration but they must do it without pressing the panic button. Its good to see that the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) has kept faith in Flower. But they should also advise the team boss to make Pietersen an integral part of his future plans.
News emanating from the England camp is not very encouraging. It is reported that Flower wants the mercurial batsman out and has issued an ultimatum that he will quit unless Pietersen is removed. Both, however, have called media reports inaccurate.
The reports that Ive issued an ultimatum of some description to the ECB are totally inaccurate, said Flower. Pietersen, too, has tweeted he was shocked and saddened by the reports. So, the face-off has been averted for the moment but the controversy will return to haunt England cricket unless the ECB acts decisively and lay the matter to rest.
Flower and Pietersen dont see eye-to-eye and the whole acrimony has been well documented. In 2012, the batsman was hauled up for sending inappropriate text message to the South African team about then England captain Andrew Strauss. It was an incident which had put Pietersens career on the line, though he was later integrated into the team that toured India for the four-Test series.
In the second Test in Mumbai during that series, Pietersen showed that he was the only batsman in the England team capable of doing the impossible. The effort kick-started the revival and eventually a Test series was won in India after a gap of 28 years.
Those were good times for England but the patch-up between Flower and Pietersen was always seemed to be an uneasy truce.
The tension was waiting to be resurfaced.
Pietersen is a great player and deserves respect, and his Delhi Daredevils team-mates will confirm that hes not a divisive force in the dressing room. He expects to be allowed his own space but the problem with Flower is that he believes in a uniform code of behaviour. The coach must be flexible in managing a special player.
The auction for the next Indian Premier League (IPL) is on February 12 and once again Pietersen will be in great demand. Hes immensely popular in India and is expected to get a very lucrative contract which would be for three years.
But there would be a question mark over his availability if Flower insists that every England probable has to play a certain number of county matches to be considered for selection for the Test series against Sri Lanka in June. Tensions might rise again.
Flower might take the easy route and eliminate Pietersen from his scheme of things as far as England is concerned. In that case, however, English cricket would be the loser, for the 34-year-old is still the best batsman of the side.
Pietersen likes attention and deserves that. Rather than a send-off, he should be welcomed with an embrace. So Flower must get rid of his ego and make Pietersen feel at home in the England dressing room.
The batsman will win him matches.