Cricket: England v South Africa

Preview: Is KP more sinn'd against than sinning?

Kevin Pietersen's absence from Lord's gives Jonny Bairstow a chance to demonstrate his own star quality

Preview: Is KP more sinn'd against than sinning?

There has been huge debate about Kevin Pietersen and his allegedly gigantic ego. But there’s a possibility that Pietersen is “more sinn’d against than sinning”. 

It’s a complicated issue because it’s not just about how Pietersen fits into Team England. It’s also about his superstar status in the IPL. In other words, it’s also about money.

But let’s take the team issue first. The fact that the Twitter parody account in Pietersen’s name turned out to have been created by a friend of Stuart Broad’s is telling. Broad can protest all he likes about having no involvement, but Pietersen is convinced that the account holder had inside information known only to England teammates.

If Broad was involved, it showed enormous disrespect to a colleague. Of course, England will back the Golden Boy of English cricket to the hilt, but we can all hazard an educated guess about what really happened.

We must also wonder why Pietersen has often appeared an isolated, even slightly sad, figure under Strauss’s captaincy, whereas he was well-integrated into the dressing room during Michael Vaughan’s reign.

Vaughan, a perceptive and sensitive captain, had great insight into Pietersen’s character.  He said of him: “KP is not a confident person. He obviously has great belief in his ability, but that’s not quite the same thing. And I know KP wants to be loved. I try to text him and talk to him as often as I can because I know he is insecure.”

How different is Vaughan’s nuanced assessment of Pietersen’s character from the common image of a self-obsessed egomaniac who cares nothing for the rest of the team. This notion has never been convincing.

Vaughan’s inclusiveness was rooted in the belief that players should express themselves, which suited Pietersen’s creative and theatrical soul perfectly. When Pietersen asked Vaughan at The Oval in 2005 how he should play it, Vaughan told him to do it his way. He produced one of the great innings of all time.

So we are left with the question of whether Strauss is perceptive and sensitive enough to realise that beneath his bravado, Pietersen needs to get enough ego strokes to feel part of the team.

Of course, we can only speculate. But it’s possible that the Strauss-Flower regime – for all it’s success – can be slightly inflexible in its management of players who do not conform perfectly to their expectations.

There has to be clearing of air on both sides. England should relish Pietersen’s honesty, his commitment to England and his admission that he is an emotional man. They can also stop expecting him to adopt the mask of false modesty which is the mark of an English “gentleman”.

In the meantime, England have a Test match to win, and they can do so. Pietersen’s replacement, Jonny Bairstow, had a slump in form after his three low scores against the West Indies. But his confidence has returned with centuries for Yorkshire and England A. He will be targeted with the short ball and has a great chance to bury the myth that he cannot play it.

Swann will return with a vengeance at Lord’s and Finn – on his home ground - will probably take Bresnan’s place. England’s bowlers started to get the measure of South Africa’s batsmen at Headingley and it is anybody’s game.