Can we get back to the cricket, please?

Peter May admits the 2012 Test series between England and South Africa will finish at Lord's this weekend as it started a month ago: neglected and disrespected.

The 2012 Test series between England and South Africa will finish at Lord's this weekend as it started a month ago: neglected and disrespected.

Some of the problems have been unavoidable or understandable. Cricket was always going to struggle in the shadow of the London Olympics. While the decision to eschew a fourth Test made that challenge worse, it was at least taken rationally after due consideration.

But the dominating story of the series once underway – the running battle between the ECB and Kevin Pietersen – can be excused neither as inevitable nor rational. That it eclipsed the first Test was bad enough; that it has continued to escalate so the batsman now misses the Lord's decider while still dominating the headlines ought to be an embarrassment for all concerned.

The ever-entertaining Old Batsman blog argues that Pietersen's absence from Lord's represents a failure of management: <a href='' target='_blank' class='instorylink'><B>"It is not their job to be as confused as Kevin."</A></B>.

The only caveat is that Pietersen may have become unmanageable. That boundary does exist and he has been skirting it for some time. No other player has Piers Morgan as a spokesman, hosts unilateral YouTube videos in direct contradiction of team orders, or announces non-existent contract talks. His PR advisers give those of Ryan Giggs and Trafigura a run for their money.

But if you accept that Pietersen had to go, the management speak and organisational gurus of the ECB should have done much better than this. We at Cricket365 saw this coming a mile off, and we can't work out how to put colours into PowerPoint.

So, Pietersen has been mismanaged. More importantly, so have his team-mates.

Pietersen is not alone in his transgressions. Alternative Cricket pointed out on Monday the connection between the KP Genius Twitter account and <a href='' target='_blank' class='instorylink'><B>'a prominent England cricketer'.</A></B>

Subsequent reports have confirmed that as Stuart Broad. The all-rounder is not simply an England cricketer, he is an England captain, and of the team for which Pietersen might still return to play.

There is, of course, no evidence of Broad's direct involvement with KP Genius (and a case that fake Twitter accounts are important only when….er….we'll get back to you). But an absence of evidence has not stopped the ECB dropping Pietersen for texting rude things about Andy Flower and Andrew Strauss. Where is the ECB investigation? When will Broad sign his formal denial of any involvement?

The double standards are farcical. James Anderson, Graeme Swann and Broad are all afforded ghosted tabloid columns to comment on the affair. All pour fuel on the publicity fire. How do the ECB square these with their pompous 'unity of purpose and trust' mission statement? It is possible to see Pietersen as a deeply flawed and blameworthy individual and still sympathise with his view that he is treated differently by his bosses.

And so to Lord's.

Broad and others have lamented that the Pietersen furore has distracted from Strauss' 100th Test but, frankly, who cares about that? Much more disappointing is the fact that it is eclipsing the contest, a Test match <I> with the world number one ranking at stake</I>, for crying out loud.

The saga has also diminished the Test since England will turn up without focused preparation and minus their best batsman. The call-up of Jonny Bairstow begs for the inclusion of all five bowlers. The Yorkshireman struggled against the West Indies pace attack so there is little reason to think he will make more runs than Tim Bresnan this week. Five-and-five has to be the best chance of 20 wickets.

While English cricket eats itself, the South Africans sail serenely on (amidst the ECB-KP war, who leaked the stuff about texts to Proteas?). Graeme Smith spoke earlier about his delight at returning to Lord's and, given his record there, you can hardly blame him. For the second successive series in England he faces a home team in desperate need of time and space to remember what is important and how to achieve it.

Just for five days, could we finally get the cricket we have been waiting for? After anticipating this series for the better part of three years, it is not too much to ask that it finishes on a high-intensity, evenly-matched third Test at HQ this week.

But given the hosts' preparation, and the balance of power to date, it is hard to see past a comfortable second victory for a team soon to be crowned world number one in Test cricket.

<b>Peter May</b>