This is one distraction England could do without at a time it is desperately hanging on to remain the No.1 Test team in the world. Its star batsman Kevin Pietersen issued a veiled threat to the England board that unless it meets his demands he will quit the Test arena after the third and final Test versus South Africa starting on Thursday at Lord’s.
This morning all of Britain’s sporting fraternity — basking in the success of its incredible Olympic haul of medals — will be watching the Closing Ceremony and also checking if the selectors have picked Pietersen for the Lord’s Test.
After being manhandled in the first Test, England fought back to draw the second thanks to a stunning century by Pietersen. He then shocked his adopted country by saying that unless the board accedes to some of his requests he will retire.
Earlier this year, he quit limited-overs international cricket after the board stuck to its guns that he plays this version of the game if he wanted to remain in the Twenty20 game. It’s a principle the England board has steadfastly maintained and it must be congratulated for its stand.
Pietersen may deny it, but the reason he is playing hardball centres around money and nothing else. It is no secret Pietersen wants his board to give him time off to play in the money-spinning Indian Premier League, but England will be involved at the time and have rightly refused permission. Pietersen would make roughly $2.6 million U.S. for six weeks’ work while his annual contract with England is far less.
The selectors have been put in unenviable situation as England’s SunSport reported Pietersen Twittered South African players Dale Steyn and AB de Villiers during the second Test complaining about coach Andy Flower’s autocratic style and was even less complimentary about his captain Andrew Strauss. If that’s true, the players would be uncomfortable with Pietersen’s presence in the dressing room.
Pietersen probably considers himself indispensable, but it is time he realized no player is bigger than the game.
AUSSIES BOUNCE ENGLAND
Defending champion Australia made a dream start in the under-19 World Cup tournament by romping to a six-wicket win over arch-rival England on Saturday. Australia won the crown in New Zealand in 2010 and is favoured to keep hold of the trophy since the 16-team tourney is being played at home. The Aussies must be pleased with their latest crop of fast bowlers who took full advantage of the bouncy wicket to restrict England to 143. Names that will be knocking on the Test door in the not too distant future are Joel Paris, Mark Steketee and medium pacer Gurinder Sandhu. Sandhu took full advantage of the fast wicket to return the impressive figures of 9.3-1-27-3. Elsewhere, Pakistan strolled to a 109-run win over Afghanistan and Bangladesh pulled off a surprise 25-run win over Sri Lanka. India, a two-time winner of this tournament, faces West Indies in its opener on Sunday. West Indies will be led by Test opener Kraigg Braithwaite ... Pakistan’s board wants Wasim Akram to come on board as bowling coach, but the former great, who is in Australia for the under-19 tournament as a commentator, is interested but made it clear the board would have to work around his busy schedule.
INDIA PICKS LAXMAN
Talk about stylish Hyderabadi batsman VVS Laxman being dumped by India following his dismal performances in his last eight Tests against England and Australia was just that. India’s selectors picked him for the two-match series against New Zealand that starts Aug. 23 and but he will be under tremendous pressure to produce as Suresh Raina is waiting in the wings to step in if he falters. Back in the team after a two-month break is Sachin Tendulkar, while young batsman Cheteshwar Pujara comes in as a replacement for the retired Rahul Dravid. Apart from Laxman the only other surprise in the squad is leg-spinner Piyush Chawla who last played for India in the World Cup last April. . . . Give India credit for picking Yuvraj Singh for the World T20 tournament to be contested in Sri Lanka in September. The World Cup man of the tournament in 2011 returns to the fold after recovering from germ cell cancer.
“It’s an emotional moment for me,” said Yuvraj after being informed of his selection on Friday. He will play in local tournaments to get back into form. The biggest surprise in India’s 15-man squad is the inclusion of spinner Harbhajan Singh who was dropped in 2011.
RANKIN SET TO BOLT
England’s number of foreigners on its national team will be boosted by one now that Irish paceman Boyd Rankin wants to switch allegiances. He says he will join England at the conclusion of next month’s T20 World Cup. That is one weird decision that may come to haunt this turncoat as England already has world-class fast bowlers. At least Ireland can be assured of Kevin O’Brien’s continued services. “It’s pretty simple, I’m Irish,’’ he told ESPNcricinfo. “I have no desire to play for England. I am happy to play for Ireland. There is nothing wrong with pulling on your country’s national jersey in any sport,’’ he said.
SMITH OUT, KALLIS IN
There is no room for sentiment. That was the bold statement South Africa’s selectors made in announcing its 15-man squad for the T20 World Cup. They excluded Test captain Graeme Smith but decided to stick with veteran all-rounder Jacques Kallis. Smith’s exclusion comes as a huge surprise as the team will miss his experience, but the selectors obviously reckon de Villiers is capable of doing as good a job. The selectors did not offer any explanation for leaving out Smith or including Kallis who has not played T20 cricket internationally since 2010. But Kallis did wield a big bat for Kolkata Knight Riders in the Indian Premier League and is genuine threat as a seamer. South Africa is in Group C with host nation Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe.