KP’s SA tour hopes dashed?

2015-05-10 12:37
Kevin Pietersen (AFP)

Cape Town – The appointment of Andrew Strauss to the newly-created post of England’s director of cricket probably only lessens the likelihood of Kevin Pietersen being part of the squad for their four-Test tour of South Africa, land of his birth, next summer.

England are the headline visitors for the 2015/16 season here, inevitably bringing a “Barmy Army” of several thousand supporters with them, revelling in warm weather and a favourable exchange rate for them.

Series between the two countries tend to be close and engaging ... although while the Proteas retain their hold on the No 1 spot on the ICC Test rankings, English cricket in general is in some disarray at present after a lamentable World Cup and then unimpressive 1-1 outcome in the three-Test series away to struggling West Indies.

There have also been ructions off the field, with the sacking last month of ECB managing director Paul Downton, which opened up the re-jigged position of director of cricket.

Initially tipped to be filled by Michael Vaughan, captain of the famous Ashes drought-breaking side of 2005, he withdrew from the running not long ago to pave the way for the engagement of Strauss, a later skipper of the national team.

But another elephant in the English cricket room -- and for longer -- has been the ongoing cold-shouldering of flamboyant batsman Pietersen, once a pivotal, hugely proven part of their armoury.

He has fallen out of favour not only with the hierarchy but with several players in the present line-up, with no lack of public mud-slinging taking place from all corners.

Not only is Strauss now assuming a position of significant authority in the England set-up, but the Johannesburg-born – albeit deemed quintessentially English – former opening batsman, 38, also succeeded Pietersen as Test captain after a turbulent, short-lived stint in charge by the strong-willed KwaZulu-Natalian.

No less significantly, there have been simmering tensions between the two, which reached a head last year when the normally temperate Strauss, during a spell commentating for Sky, was heard off-air labelling Pietersen “an absolute c***”.

Continually outspoken critic and former England opening batsman Geoff Boycott has already stated what many would regard as the pretty obvious, suggesting that if those inadvertently-captured comments from Strauss were any yardstick, there is “not a cat in hell’s chance” of Pietersen resuming his 104-cap Test career which ground to a halt acrimoniously in January 2014 following England’s disastrous last Ashes series (a 5-0 humiliation) Down Under.

Just a tad more diplomatically, writer David Hopps said on soon after confirmation of Strauss’s new role this weekend that he is “regarded as an impediment” to the resumption of Pietersen’s contribution to England and that the swashbuckling player’s prospects appear “once again minimal”.

Strauss is seen as something of an establishment figure and “safe” presence in the new post, whereas Vaughan, had he been the chosen individual, would have been more of a people’s choice in some respects.

Significantly, Vaughan is probably more partial to the idea of “KP” climbing back on the England wagon, having been quoted on Sunday as saying he “wouldn’t want to rule (him) out”.

Probably the only way Pietersen – who turns 35 next month, so it is not as though he offers especially long-term credentials – may force Strauss into putting out an olive branch some time in the next few months is through sheer weight of personal domestic runs for Surrey, or continued angst for ICC fourth-ranked England in some tough upcoming Test assignments ... or a bit of both.

Alastair Cook’s side next play successive home series against re-emerging New Zealand and then another Ashes as the main event of their summer, ahead of the 2015/16 safari to South Africa (there is also an away series against Pakistan, probably in the UAE, a few weeks before they come here).

Pietersen has been decent enough but not spectacular in two County Championship matches thus far, scoring 19 and 53 not out against Glamorgan and then 32 and eight not out against Essex.

But he retains undoubted star appeal – something observers feel the current England side, now also denied the further services of retired Jonathan Trott, rather sorely lacks.

Strauss may also find himself under some pressure, if the national side continues to underwhelm, to actually banish the theory that he has some sort of counter-productive own grudge against big personality Pietersen that is not in the interests of England’s wellbeing.

So the door may not be entirely closed to Pietersen yet: he still boasts the best Test batting stats (average not far off 50) of any of the more established figures in the England line-up like Ian Bell or the increasingly fitful Cook, even if it is also no secret that he – damagingly? -- divides opinion in the English dressing room.

He has shone in two prior English-staged series against South Africa, although only had one Test-specific tour of his homeland itself, scoring 177 runs at a modest average of 25 in the shared 2009/10 series.

You can be pretty certain many South Africans would secretly love to see him do duty for the old enemy next summer, just to spice up things further, even as they get firmly behind the Proteas’ cause.

But I share the sentiment this weekend that the likelihood has probably receded rather than strengthened ...

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

Read more on:    ecb  |  andrew strauss  |  kevin pietersen  |  cricket

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