It broke on Twitter. That much was inevitable. Everything about Kevin Pietersen seems to explode onto the worldwide conversation over 140 characters these days. Just last week, England’s star batsman questioned the commentating credentials of Nick Knight. Two years ago, in an equally bad-tempered internet outburst, there was the revelation that he had been dropped for a limited-overs series against West Indies. According to KP, it was a “f**k up” – language that cost him a £3000 fine.
Follow the feed and you will be inundated with a whole host of things, from reports about how the Delhi Daredevils are getting on to updates on infant son Dylan. Yesterday lunchtime though, Pietersen’s name started trending worldwide without him even having to touch a keypad.
News of the 31 year-old’s retirement from 20 and 50-over international cricket spread like wildfire – rapidly and with a modicum of disbelief attached to it. Shock seemed the prevailing feeling of those passing the message on. Well, that and cynicism. There is always plenty of that surrounding a player who split opinion drastically even before donning a skunk-Mohican hairpiece, returning to his homeland and plundering runs with bristling self-importance.
Pietersen’s decision – effectively to drop everything but Indian Premier League and Test cricket – is fraught with nagging inconsistencies. For starters, having just hit a serene 80 in the second Test at Trent Bridge, he is nearing his indomitable best, which makes bowlers have nightmares about that stomping stance and savage backlift.
The statement that accompanied the announcement pinpointed “increasing demands on the body” and a desire to “let the next generation of players come through to gain experience for the World Cup in 2015.”
Hang on. Rewind to last October. Pietersen was averaging 23 in his last 30 One Day Internationals, without a hundred since 2008. Even so, he insisted: “I want to continue playing until the 2015 World Cup, and then we will reassess. No one is ever guaranteed their place – not for their country, for their county or for their club side.”
Those are not the words of a man who would step aside to let James Taylor or Jonny Bairstow join England’s batting order without a fight.
February brought a dramatic (is there any other way) return to form, and two magnificent 50-over centuries at the end of a desolate month in the United Arab Emirates. The second of these, a sensational 130 that dragged his side to a successful chase of 237 and a series whitewash over Pakistan, was a fantastic marriage of brute power and audacious skill.
It is a genuine shame that this will be the last we see of Pietersen in that format – the one he announced himself in – at least with the three lions on his chest. Then again, that is certainly the way in which he would like to bow out, with memories of his immense capabilities at their freshest.
One significant connotation of these events is that Andy Flower will be without his most destructive weapon for the defence of England’s ICC World Twenty20 crown in Sri Lanka in September. Pietersen struck 248 imperious runs last time out in the Caribbean on the way to the man-of-the-tournament award. Those who kept a distant eye on IPL proceedings – more specifically KP’s sparkling 103 not out against the Deccan Chargers – will be more wary of his absence than most. However, this is where the plot thickens.
After his fumbling excuses about youth and ailing fitness, Pietersen made an intriguing remark: "For the record, were the selection criteria not in place, I would have readily played for England in the upcoming World Twenty20."
What crawled out of the woodwork then, was the fact that the ECB do not allow centrally contracted players to opt between 50- and 20-over games. It is all or nothing. In light of Graeme Swann’s calls to abolish the longer of these two back in November, the players’ choice is obvious. Perhaps Pietersen has martyred himself so that the powers-that-be may instil more sympathetic policies. Let’s face it, such intention wouldn’t be out of character.
Perversely, traditionalists could be the real winners. From now, every one of KP’s Test innings will be more valuable, for that is the only arena in which he can represent his adopted, beloved country. Nevertheless, what is undeniable is this irony: an attempt at closure has yielded far more questions than answers. That much was inevitable.