As predictable as a middle order collapse, the rumours of an England camp split over Kevin Pietersen were bound to emerge as soon as the Ashes had been surrendered, 5-0, in Australia.
According to journalist Mike Selvey of the Guardian, Flower is prepared to resign if other key figures around England, including captain Alastair Cook, insist that Pietersen remains part of the England squad.
If those truly are the way the cards have fallen, normally you'd expect a columnist to pick a side in this spat.
No. Count me out. I don't want to know.
It is five years ago to the day that Pietersen resigned as England captain after the sacking of coach Peter Moores, which he had helped to spark. How things change.
Flower and Andrew Strauss rose from the rabble, Pietersen in tow. The team won three Ashes series on the spin, a World T20 championship and became the best side in Test cricket. As they did it, Pietersen continued to bang out spectacular match-winning innings.
Both were invaluable to England's success. Both can be again. Each man has publicly signed up for the foreseeable future; Flower in interviews such as this one with the BBC, KP by social media. You'd hope that meant they wanted the same things:
I want to thank all the England fans for their terrific support. And I'm determined to help regain the Ashes in 2015.— Kevin Pietersen (@KP24) January 6, 2014
But the bad blood, the Guardian report continues, dates back to 2012, when Pietersen appeared to distance himself from the side, culminating in his axing from the Test side until he had "reintegrated" into the team. In the meantime, England lost their top spot in the Test rankings, suffered defeat at home to South Africa, saw their captain Andrew Strauss resign and then surrendered their World T20 title in meek fashion.
All of which points to the fact that an England team with KP is usually more effective than one without him. How could it be otherwise? The statistics don't lie—he is fourth on the all-time list of England's Test run-scorers and has statistics which demand a place on the Test team.
|Most Runs in Test By England Batsmen (8000+)|
And though his average and return was poorer than usual on a wretched tour, he was still England's top scorer over the five Tests. Put simply, if you're rebuilding the team on form and cricketing ability alone, Pietersen continues.
So, if there is an agenda to push Pietersen off the team, will he have been wronged? Perhaps. Soon after he tweeted his intention to play in the next Ashes, Pietersen also linked to a piece by former captain Michael Vaughan in the Daily Telegraph, suggesting that Pietersen is dropped or given more power within the team.
It may not be an ultimatum—and Vaughan was clearly espousing the latter option—but make no mistake, KP publicly acknowledging a piece which calls for him to get more power is hardly a benign move.
It's hard not to sympathise with Flower. Pietersen is clearly not an easy presence in the dressing room, and the pair's styles clash. And the Zimbabwean is not alone. Moores will attest to the difficulty that can come with working with KP. So too can his former teammates and staff at Nottinghamshire and Hampshire. There is a track record of intransigence. Is it really the time for him to rock the boat?
But then, Flower's job, when distilled to its most basic elements, is to build a successful and harmonious England team. If he cannot coach Pietersen, he's falling at the first hurdle. And should a coach who's just lost 5-0 be demanding that their top scorer is dropped?
Perhaps, there's more to the story than we know—in fact, there almost certainly is. The precise details of where "trust and mutual respect" broke down between England and Pietersen in 2012 were never entirely clear, the ordinary fan relying on little tidbits which were drip-fed to the media.
Unless we're told more, the only conclusion is that Pietersen remains good enough to bat for England, and Flower's record justifies him continuing to coach the team.
If the next few months bring anything other than both men getting on with the job at hand, then there are no winners. If you need to take a side in what could degenerate into a passive-aggressive spat, take the side of the best England cricket team possible.
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