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
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
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
Just a tad more diplomatically, writer David Hopps said on www.espncricinfo.com 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
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