According to the BBC, the England management team has decided that the batsman will “not be in the plans for those trips (to the West Indies for an ODI tour and Bangladesh for the World Twenty20) or beyond”. It is not the fact that he is not being considered for the upcoming tours that baffles the mind, it’s the “or beyond” part. After all anyone that had the stomach to watch the Ashes series this winter will tell you that the sight of Pietersen’s over aggressive style of play at points when conservatism was needed would have you wincing whilst you were trying not to fall asleep on the sofa. But to rule out England’s 4th highest test run scorer for the rest of his career is ludicrous.
Statistics show that Pietersen, 2013 apart, is actually one of England’s most consistent batsmen of all time. He averaged 28.3 in 2013, but this has been the only year in which his average has been below 42, which is incredible, even when compared to some other greats of the game. Sachin Tendulkar averaged 29 in 1995, 17 in 2003 and 24 in 2006 and Brian Lara averaged 25 in 1996, 29 in 2000 and 35 in 2002. Obviously batting is more than simply averages, but the numbers do demonstrate a certain level of excellence, especially for a man that plays half of his test cricket in England. Obviously Tendulkar and Lara were not dropped like a stone after one mediocre year, and went on to become arguably the two greatest batsmen of the modern era.
Completely writing off a batsmen of Pietersen’s quality after a run of bad form also seems ridiculous when compared to other sporting greats. With the benefit of hindsight could anyone imagine in 1999 the Green Bay Packers writing off Brett Favre after he threw more interceptions than he did touchdowns, Michael Schumacher being sacked by Ferrari after finishing fifth in the world championship or Andre Agassi being told he was no longer needed on the tour because he hadn’t won a grand slam for four years. There is nothing to suggest that Pietersen’s bad year has been more than a blip than many world class performers suffer, sometimes on more than one occasion. His dressing room demeanour is likely to be a major factor in this decision, but it has been managed for almost a decade, why is now the time to decide that enough is enough?
At 33, Pietersen still has around five years of good cricket left in him. Of the names ahead of him on England’s all-time list, David Gower retired earliest at the age of 37, a player who himself had a poor run of form between 1987 and 1989 without being considered surplus to requirements. This decision seems to be the attempts of a new management team looking to put their own personal stamp on the side. It is reminiscent of Steve McLaren’s declaration following his appointment as England manager that David Beckham and Sol Campbell would no longer be required, only to have to be forced into recalling them.
Pietersen has no desire to retire and has even publicly stated his desire to regain the ashes in 2015. It is hard to believe that Pietersen will actually be excluded from selection indefinitely. Although he seems to have been excluded for issues inside the dressing room, it’s now up to him to prove that in years to come, today’s decision will be looked upon with bemusement. McLaren ended upon undermining his own positioning with the rash culling of senior players, it appears that the ECB management committee will end up doing the same.