KP may quit Tests, but he won't stay gone

Peter May was hardly surprised by Kevin Pietersen's threat to quit Test cricket, but reckons the temperamental batsman will be back.

'Kevin Pietersen has sensationally admitted his England career could be over' reports the <I>Daily Mail</I> on Tuesday morning while <I>The Cricketer</I> leads with 'retirement bombshell'.

After the batsman's press conference at the end of the Headingley Test, the English media are united: Shock! Horror! KP could quit Test cricket!

This must indeed be a terrible surprise to anyone who doesn't read <I>Cricket365</I>. We flagged up earlier in the summer and again in last week's Headingley preview that this was likely Pietersen's last Test series for some time.

The batsman's insistence that he would miss the half-baked Test series against New Zealand next May to stay in the IPL had set him on an unavoidable collision course with Andy Flower. Once made public, such a proposition was never going to be acceptable to the coach.

So, Pietersen faced admitting he was wrong and taking a pay cut (neither is listed as a hobby in his <I>Who's Who</I> entry) or retirement from the five-day game. QED.

It was also little surprise that Pietersen revealed a burning resentment towards the ECB and implicitly chairman Giles Clarke, who sacked him from the captaincy and is no friend of the IPL.

If there was any pleasure to be taken from Monday's interview with <I>BBC</I> correspondent Jonathan Agnew it was this solemn declaration: "The saddest part is that there are spectators out there who love watching me play."

Priceless. Pietersen remains infinitely self-conscious and not in the slightest self-aware.

So, what happens next?

Immediately Flower and Andrew Strauss have to decide whether to retain Pietersen for the third and final Lord's Test. This presents a challenge for a management team who have prided themselves on being both principled and pragmatic.

Pietersen's first innings performance in Leeds was a timely if unnecessary reminder of his unique brilliance and belligerence. Simply, England would not be world number one without him. With the most important Test series in a generation at stake, the pragmatic decision is a very simple one.

On the other hand, his post-match outburst breached the principles of team unity and professionalism on which this side has been built. There will at least be a serious discussion of whether it is time to cut the nomad loose.

Ultimately, though, how serious can that discussion be? England are a much better team with Pietersen and his baggage than without. Replacing him with Ravi Bopara or Tim Bresnan (assuming Graeme Swann returns) would not be an act of principle but of martyrdom.

Once the D'Oliveira Trophy series is put to bed, it looks likely that Pietersen's international career is over for now. At the start of a cycle encompassing India and Australia series, it will be the time to make changes. The only thing that can alter the current course is the player or his coach changing his mind. Neither is expected.

So let's instead make one further prediction for the longer term: this will not be the last series that Kevin Pietersen plays for England.

All along we have said this will be his last Test series <I>for some time</I>. The tendency in the eye of these storms is to assume that the world has changed forever. In practice, it rarely does. The most obvious example in recent years is Graham Thorpe, who was definitely 'finished' in 2002 but went on to play 23 more Tests. Another was Marcus Trescothick, who had opportunities to return to the international fold long after stepping down.

Pietersen will be out for as long as Flower is coach, but the Zimbabwean reckons that will be two and a half years at most. Imagine, say, the 2015 Ashes going down to an Oval shoot-out a la 2009 and the home team having to call up an additional batsman.

Will they attempt to recreate the brilliance of their Jonathan Trott pick with another uncapped county stalwart? Or will they turn to a titan of the world game, lightly raced and unsurpassable on the big occasion?

By that time there will either be a dedicated IPL window or KP's behaviour will be the norm even for rich old England. As the ECB will hopefully notice, other boards have already accepted that they cannot dictate to the Indian super-casino. If a window is created, he will be back all the sooner.

For Pietersen the trick in the meantime will be keeping his mouth shut. He has played his hand dismally this summer, agitating himself into international retirement. It won't take long to realise that no matter how much he tweets about the IPL it is no match for the competitive white heat of Test cricket.

He is only a good year and a half from being the nation's highest ever run scorer. His ambition to reach 10,000 Test runs remains eminently achievable. Given the age of many limited overs batting stars he could still do a job in 50- or 20-over cricket for much of this decade.

But every time he is interviewed between now and his 50th birthday he will be asked if he wants to play for England again. If he tries to bully Clarke and Flower through more crass interviews then he will only cement his reputation for putting self-interest first.

A recall will surely come, though, as usual with Pietersen, it will not come easily. The next couple of years are going to be a tiresome mix of self-enrichment on the T20 circuit and self-justification in the media.

But this won't be the last international cricket sees of him. He's too ambitious for himself and too good for England for either party to leave it like this.

<b>Peter May</b>