On one side of the Kevin Pietersen debate stand his fans, the people who have watched his career and see an England international who has rewritten batting rules, transformed matches and series, and—if you look at the 2005 Ashes series or the World T20—the course of England's cricket history.
On the other side of the debate are his critics. They see the outlander. They see the tattoos. If they have forgiven his South African roots, then they have not forgiven the rancour, the spats with coaches and teammates, the sloppy shots and the texts.
And in the middle are very few. Kevin Pietersen is not a man to make you feel ambivalent.
Not in those who watch him. Nor in those who play against him and evidently not in those who are, in the literal sense, on his side.
But none of this matters. None of it. Because whatever your starting point on KP, the decision to remove him from the England set-up at this point, as the ECB announced today, is an appalling and embarrassing one.
Let's start at square one: whether he merits a place in the team on talent and form. If you're going to remove Pietersen from the Test side on form grounds, then as the team's top scorer in this dreadful Ashes campaign, you surely have to jettison every last player.
And when it comes to the limited-overs teams, you'd be hard-pressed to convince anybody that KP wouldn't have shaken up a top three of Alastair Cook, Ian Bell and Joe Root (who started the ODI series together) for the better.
KP also appeared committed to the England cause long enough that he could have been part of what the ECB statement referred to as "the rebuilding process."
The long-term targets for England are next year's World Cup and the 2015 Ashes. Pietersen may be closer to the end of his career than the start, but at 33 years of age, he still had something to offer:
1/2 - I am shocked and saddened by reports in the media today concerning my future with England...— Kevin Pietersen (@KP24) January 8, 2014
2/2 - I wish to repeat my strong desire to continue playing for my country, and to help us regain the Ashes in 2015.— Kevin Pietersen (@KP24) January 8, 2014
To discard such talent is callous. But it's not even the worst aspect of the decision.
To do it right now is maddeningly wrong. Why now?
England have just lost their director of cricket, Andy Flower, who stepped down last week after five years in charge. No replacement has yet been named, but might that appointment not want a say on whether he's allowed to pick the most talented player?
There is a power vacuum at the top of English cricket right now and Pietersen has been swallowed up by it.
England have been in slow decline since the peaks of 2011 when they were the world's best Test side, but it is nonetheless shocking to see how a stable unit can be torn so comprehensively apart after one miserable tour.
Pietersen joins Flower on the England scrapheap. Jonathan Trott, Graeme Swann and Steven Finn did not survive the tour. Matt Prior was dropped. Cook's captaincy is under intense scrutiny (and his role in this decision and its outcome may yet decide his own fate).
Change is essential, but are there really so few within this squad—Ashes winners just five Test matches ago—on whom to build some foundations?
There are decisive actions and there are rash decisions. This is the latter.
Anyone can manage predictability. Why has biggest management team in england history failed to manage a maverick and given no reasons why?— David Hopps (@DavidKHopps) February 4, 2014
If you think ending Pietersen's England career is the right direction, it's fair enough, even if I disagree. But not like this. There is no decisiveness here, and if you think today's events provide closure, you will spend the next months being proven spectacularly wrong.
Just take a look at the quotes of the new managing director of England cricket, Paul Downton, in the official statement. The emphasis is our own:
Clearly this was a tough decision because Kevin has been such an outstanding player for England as the fact that he is the country's leading run scorer in international cricket demonstrates.
However everyone was aware that there was a need to begin the long term planning after the Australia tour. Therefore we have decided the time is right to look to the future and start to rebuild not only the team but also team ethic and philosophy.
The ECB may have very good reasons. They haven't given them in the statement. They have hinted at them. Overall: chaos.— Andy Zaltzman (@ZaltzCricket) February 4, 2014
"...rebuild not only the team but also team ethic and philosophy" Who's doing @ECB_cricket PR? Last part unnecessary + inflammatory.— Gordon Lott (@gordonlott) February 4, 2014
Even if Pietersen opts to accept the implied slight that he affected team ethic and philosophy negatively, the media shouldn't. Unlike the texting scandal of 2012, there are not the same whispers about his character and behaviour this time around. Only recently, Swann insisted there were no issues, as the Guardian quote:
England's short-term future should include Pietersen. People seem keen to create a rift between Kevin and the rest of the team.
Among the more ludicrous stories was one claiming he did not go to the team's Christmas lunch. I know he did – because I sat next to him. Since being reintegrated in 2012, his attitude has been great. He was England's top run scorer in the Ashes and is one of the world's best players, so why get rid of him?
Precisely. And unless England romp to glory in the World T20 and swat aside Sri Lanka and India, that will be the question asked in pubs and papers across the land.
You can get rid of Pietersen, but from this angle, he will cast a long, long shadow over the team.