The selection process for England's Test team is a rather murky beast. Or perhaps a simple one, depending upon your outlook.
Kevin Pietersen, of course, knows it better than most.
Indeed, being selected into the national XI—and then staying in it—isn't a straightforward matter of runs, wickets and sustained excellence—Graham Onions would be in the team if it were. Lamentably, those cornerstones of performance are only a small component of one's ascension into the England team.
Where you're from plays a large part; you need to come from the right sort of family to be captain, after all, according to ECB chairman Giles Clarke. It certainly helps if you're a product of the system, too. County records are secondary to those compiled at the academies or on England Lions tours, as noted by Jarrod Kimber of ESPN Cricinfo.
Liking mungbean curry also helps one's chances of selection. Ditto for being easy to manage, which, in the ECB's view it seems, means you're not one for independent thought. Being willing to fit, conform, blend in and accept all that is presented to you is how to stay safe once you're in. There's no room for honest opinions and free thinkers—just ask Pietersen, Nick Compton or Michael Carberry.
In short, you must be the right kind of guy, who comes from the right kind of place, who says the right kind of things and who seamlessly fits the clique.
"It's all up to Matt," Alastair Cook said of Matt Prior in the wake of defeat to India at Lord's, per ESPN Cricinfo, when asked whether the slumping wicketkeeper would continue to hold his place.
Despite putting down six catches in four Tests and averaging 22.05 with the bat since last July, Cook's trusted companion had earned the right to decide his own future in the eyes of the captain.
"We back Cookie all the way, he’s a fantastic leader in the dressing room and he’s a fantastic bloke,” Prior said of Cook just days later, according to Sky Sports.
Despite leading the team to a 10-Test winless streak and averaging 14.33 from the beginning of the year until the conclusion of the Lord's Test, the current captain was unequivocally the right man to lead England in the eyes of Cook's faithful wicketkeeper.
The popular kids, it seems, are sacrosanct.
Yet, Cook and the clique were unwilling to accommodate the most prolific international run-scorer ever to pull on an England shirt, leaving chairman Clarke to do what he does best (or worst) by telling fans to "move on" from Pietersen, per The Telegraph, while also adding: "Who plays for England is a matter for the national selectors."
Such contradictions are a forte of this England administration.
So what's the point of all this? How does it relate to Pietersen's situation now? Why does this mean he is too late to be considered for an England Test recall?
Quite simply, too much has gone down. After the public-relations disaster of his sacking and the both incoherent and incongruous explanations subsequently offered, it would be politically impossible for the ECB to reinstate the discarded batsman.
The appalling contradictions that define the current authority can't be added to. Too much has been invested into Cook and the current regime. Too many bridges have been burnt, too many relationships sacrificed to protect the current order.
No matter how rocky it gets for England, recalling Pietersen would be more embarrassing for the team's management than any of the ghastly performances put forward by Cook's side in recent months.
It was in the aftermath of England's defeat to India in the second Test at Lord's when the notion of Pietersen's return seemed faintly possible.
Hammered by Australia, edged out by Sri Lanka and then trailing to India, both Cook's tenure and the conviction of the current regime appeared to be crumbling.
If ever the door seemed ajar, it was then.
Of course, only wholesale changes, a fire sale, would be capable of giving a glimmer of hope to Pietersen. But as MS Dhoni's team celebrated a famous victory on the site of cricket's cathedral, that suddenly didn't feel inconceivable.
A bounce-back victory at the Ageas Bowl put an end to that if the politics of it all hadn't done so already.
Additionally, from a purely playing perspective, Pietersen no longer stands as a viable option to build around.
At 34 years of age and with his best days behind him, the polarising star is not an anti-villain capable of throwing England on his shoulders and hauling the nation back to on-field prosperity.
Instead, the renegade batsman would be a short-term option. Given the deep-rooted problems that plague the country's cricketing system—most of which are caused by the administrators rather than the players—England aren't in a position to merely cover cracks, to search for temporary solutions to long-running issues.
Should Pietersen still be in the team? Yes, he should never have been axed. But can he be summoned back now? No, doing so would see England navigate a politically impossible path, seeing the current regime toppled to install the former star as the central figure of another "new era."
Given what has transpired and the position in which Pietersen finds himself on his career timeline, such a situation is unworkable.
Thus, despite an unjust axing, a Pietersen recall wouldn't right the wrong.
It's too late for that.