London: When England and South Africa take the field at Lord's on Thursday morning, Kevin Pietersen will be a notable absentee. And for that, you can blame monumental stupidity from both sides. It's not easy to make sense of what has happened, but the facts are simple enough.
If you have a contract, there are terms and conditions in that. And you're expected to abide by them. We no longer have a situation where people play sport for the love of it. It's now a business, and that's why you have business people running sporting organisations.
In years gone by, you got paid by the game or by the tour. There was often no contract at all. In some cases, you were lucky if you got a phone call telling you that you were part of the side.
We've been given to understand that Pietersen was dropped on the basis of text messages that most people have not seen. Last year, Graeme Swann criticised Pietersen in a book that thousands of people have read. There are huge double standards at work here.
In the past, the team management has publically ridiculed Samit Patel about his weight and lack of fitness. If you are going to do that, and also let a member of the team say things about others, it doesn't make any sense. You're supposed to be one team. If the management can ridicule a player, why can't the player then respond? It goes both ways.
Apparently, the ECB did not know that the Youtube video was coming out. I presume that was almost a last resort from Pietersen. He probably knew what was coming so he tried to pre-empt it by putting out that video. I think Kevin Pietersen and his advisors have acted stupidly through this entire episode. But the ECB's management of the entire thing has been ridiculous as well. Amateurish. Both sides have a lot to answer for.
You also have a situation where every private discussion Pietersen has with the ECB makes the papers. Pietersen had said last week that he thought private meetings were private. So when the ECB come out and talk about a lack of trust, well, there's an example for you. Administrators talk about players not setting the right example, but they think they can do as they like.
I've been hearing from certain quarters that Pietersen is 'unmanageable'. No one is. You're not going to find any team or squad where everyone gets on. If they think that, they had better wake up. In the great team I played in, there were a few guys that were awkward. But the thing is that you don't have to be friends or enjoy the company of everybody that you work with. You see them during working hours and you deal with whatever idiosyncrasies they have once they are committed to the team with their words or actions.
I haven't heard of Pietersen undermining the England team. I haven't heard of him being out of form because he is not motivated. If he's disturbing the chemistry of the team, fine, but I haven't heard any complaints about that either.
The West Indies dressing room that I was part of had some very strong and different characters. We knew that we were there to represent the West Indies. Once we got on the cricket field, we knew what the job was and we got on with it. Off the cricket field, we often had differences of opinion. Clive Lloyd was almost a father figure so we looked up to him and respected him. He led us and set good examples, and we followed those. We were united on the cricket field. Off the field, it didn't really matter. You didn't have to like someone that you played with.
Looking at the team sheets for Lord's, you'd have to say that South Africa are the favorites now. I wouldn't mind bowling to this batting line-up without Pietersen. With Pietersen in the side, it's a completely different team. He has that aura about him. He can dominate attacks, which allows other batsmen around him to settle in. We saw that with James Taylor. Pietersen was totally dominant, hitting the bowlers all over the park and treating them with total disrespect. Taylor just eased himself in to Test cricket. If he had been batting with Jonathan Trott, for example, he would have been under a lot more pressure.
I also want to see if England will bowl better than they did in the last two matches. At Headingley, they were a little bit better, especially Stuart Broad, but I don't think they looked anywhere near as venomous as they have in the recent past. If the bowling doesn't improve at Lord's, they have absolutely no chance. They got back into the game at Headingley because of Pietersen and the rate at which he scored his runs. When the opposition get over 350 and you don't have a batsman who can score at Pietersen's rate, it's difficult to get back into the game.
The final selection will be interesting. Steven Finn didn't set the world alight and bowl as well as they would have liked at Headingley, but then none of the others bowled particularly well either. If they bring back Graeme Swann, who will they keep out? I presume it's going to be Finn. And even if Swann doesn't play, I think they'll still bring someone else in place of Finn.
I don't think they want Finn in the team because he doesn't bat, and when he bowls, he goes at over four an over. England have worked on this theory of bowling economically and getting batsmen frustrated enough to give away their wickets. That doesn't work with top-class batsmen, as Hashim Amla and Jacques Kallis showed at The Oval.