Cow Corner

KP’s absence looms over defining run chase

England are six for two. There is a series to save — a match to win with the odds stacked against you. It will take something exceptional, maverick even, to turn things around.

Enter Kevin Pietersen. Except, of course, not today.

Ian Bell and Jonathan Trott, ably assisted by the likes of James Taylor and Jonny Bairstow, may yet score 330 runs on the final day against the champions elect of Test cricket to salvage something from the series.

But with KP on your side, not dispatched to county duty for Surrey, it would be just that little bit more likely.

A friend of Cow Corner once met Kevin Pietersen at the launch of product for which the England batsman was the poster boy. The verdict was that KP was 'not the brightest boy'. Whether said friend was right or not, that's an image that Pietersen has found hard to shed.

Forget the idea of KP as mercenary, or whatever else you might want to call him. There's a strange innocence to Pietersen's character — a lack of understanding of the effect his behaviour can have on others. In most English dressing rooms, the arrogance has been tolerated, rather than loved, for the sake of his talent.

When he took his playing demands (or requests, depending on your stance) to the ECB, he probably had little sense of how badly it would play out, how ungrateful it could be made to look in the press.

'Not the brightest', perhaps, but he has always possessed a singular vision and purpose, from the moment he upped sticks and arrived into the English game. This was the Kevin Pietersen show, and England was the place lucky enough to stage it.

And for most fans, players and ECB officials, that has until now been enough. Pietersen's interests and those of England aligned neatly, and within five Tests of his debut, the Ashes had been regained for the first time in almost 20 years.

Pietersen's brashness and self-confidence gave him the belief that he could score 158 against a charging Australia on day five at The Oval in 2005. His team-mates could scarcely have conceived of the innings, let alone played it.

His talent is unquestioned as it is, judging by the 149 at Headingley, undiminished. But form has rarely been the issue.

Now, it seems, English cricket has turned on KP. Having made a first-ball duck against Surrey, certain members of the Hampshire crowd were reported to have booed him back to the pavilion. That may be in part due to his acrimonious exit from the county, but it also betrays the public mood.

Sky Sports, covering the day's Test match cricket, felt it important enough to broadcast the footage during the Test. It will surprise nobody that they did not show any of Ravi Bopara's 11-ball innings of one on his own return to county action today.

Pietersen's absence from this Test hangs over the series. It cannot fail to do otherwise.

Reports that he texted tips to the South Africans on how to dismiss Andrew Strauss sound damning — 'not the brightest boy' once more. Telling cricketers that Strauss doesn't like bowlers coming in from around the wicket is about as useful as Strauss telling KP's opponents that Kev doesn't like left-arm spin, but if that is what the 'trust and mutual respect' that Strauss has spoken of this week refers to, then you can see why it is a far more serious issue than the name-calling which has also been mentioned.

But if there is a path to reconciliation for Pietersen and the England team, then they should strive to walk it.

KP has been jettisoned because people involved in selection felt they were in a position of strength to ditch a player whose behaviour had made him unpopular.

Should this Test be lost, the spotlight will surely turn on the future of Strauss. He's average 32.79 in his last 33 Tests, stretching over three years. That middling form could be tolerated while England were climbing the Test ladder — as they slide down it with just three wins from their last 11 matches, it may not be. You could also argue that Strauss has failed to manage KP effectively — though that argument may find few sympathisers, particularly within the ECB.

But if Strauss, now 35, were to go, that would then leave James Taylor, Jonny Bairstow and a new opener in the line-up. If only they could turn to a man with 7000 Tests runs at a whisker under 50 to his name.

The team remains better with KP in it.