The series between England and South Africa had pretty high stakes to begin with – it was a battle between the two best teams in the world; it was a battle for supremacy and it was fight between two teams who played a similar brand of cricket.
But for a certain Kevin Pietersen, the stakes have just gotten impossibly higher.
Right in the middle of the high profile series, Pietersen found time to send some pretty damning text messages to his ‘buddies’ on the South African team. As long as the messages would not have been leaked out to the media, the England star would have remained safe. But now that they are out in the open, Pietersen’s England career is in danger of ending rather abruptly. England skipper Andrew Strauss and coach Andy Flower aren't happy and as long as they are around, expect Pietersen to get the cold shoulder.
Of course, this won't be a first for Pietersen. He has had a history of trouble.
The Peter Moores fiasco when Pietersen, then skipper, finally managed to get the ECB to dismiss the then England coach, only to find that he wasn’t needed either. After a brilliant start to his career in 2005, Pietersen had worked his way to captaincy on the back of some truly astonishing batting. But after the controversy, he was painted as a trouble-maker and he struggled with his form over the next 18 months.
On Twitter, he once slammed the England selectors after he was left out of the one-day squad to face Pakistan in August 2010. And he didn't learn any lessons from that debacle. A year later, he criticised practice facilities at the Adelaide Oval before the second Ashes Test against Australia.
And then the latest controversy around his much-debated decision to quit limited overs cricket wasn't kind to him either.
But given the fact that he scored a brilliant century against South Africa in the second Test -- one might have expected him to be pretty pleased with himself. But that didn't stop him from texting. He has always been a maverick -- he wouldn't think twice about sucking on a lollipop while sitting in a press conference. He wouldn't mind calling Yuvraj Singh a 'pie-chucker' or saying that England's arch nemesis, Shane Warne, is one of his best friends.
But England's team management have decided that team ethics rate higher than a player and they have done it in a very public manner. You cannot doubt Pietersen's ability as a batsman and his importance to England -- but at the moment, they both seem to be outweighed by his behaviour.
Some of the most naturally talented sportstars suffer difficulties off it -- is Pietersen the latest in the line of flawed geniuses?
Cricket has had it's fair share -- without even going deep into the history of the sport -- you can instantly pick out Shane Warne and Brian Lara. Now, they could play. But then so can Pietersen.
Warne managed to wriggle his way out of accusing coach John Buchanan as someone who "over-complicates issues" and has sometimes "lacked a little bit of common sense". He even queried the point of Buchanan's existence. "I'm a big believer," he had said, "that the coach is something you travel in to get to the game."
In 1995, Lara announced his retirement after a verbal clash with then captain Richie Richardson. However, he was persuaded to change his mind by the president of the West Indies Cricket Board.
The thing that stands out most about Warne and Lara is that they managed to correctly estimate how much their sides needed them. Pietersen has not been able to do that. England are one of the most consistent sides in world cricket at the moment and regardless of whether KP is in the squad or not, they believe they will continue to stay that way.
Pietersen's acts would not have endeared him to his fans either. He was asked to apologise to the captain and coach and he ended up posting a video on Youtube -- with no mention of an apology. Not things that men in power would take to kindly.
Pietersen is a risk-taker. He always has been -- whether it is his strokeplay or his choice or words. It is what drives him and for all you know -- the act of sending text messages filled with 'friendly banter' was motivating him to do better and keeping his spirits up.
But surely it didn't make any sense. He might have been chuckling away as he sent those messages but he should be pretty close to tears now. He had a lonely existence in the England dressing room and even if he comes back, it won't change anytime soon.
The England Cricket Board could have handled this the way the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) handled a similar problem in Australia - when Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir had an issue with Mahendra Singh Dhoni they were cut down to size in an instant in a private manner. Sehwag was 'rested' and Gambhir's vice-captaincy was handed to Virat Kohli.
But the ECB has instead elected to make a public spectacle of this and it doesn't augur well for Pietersen.
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