It has been two years since England batsman Kevin Pietersen has pulled on the famous three Lions uniform and represented his adopted country.
During that time, Pietersen has travelled the world, performing spectacularly for a range of teams in all forms of the game. In contrast, the team he should be playing for – England - have experienced mixed fortunes.
Their fragile, largely inexperienced batting line-up is a key reason for their up and down form. With the International T20 World Cup coming up, now is the time for England to end their petty stance and select Pietersen, who is still potentially the best batsman in the nation.
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Why is Pietersen out of the England team?
Pietersen has not played a game for his country since the final test of England’s 5-0 demolition at the hands of Australia in the 2013/14 Ashes series.
Following the conclusion of the series, England looked for a scapegoat. Despite scoring more runs during the series than any of his teammates, it appeared Pietersen was the easy choice.
After years of various rumours about the continual clashing of personalities in the dressing room, Pietersen was the one to make way.
Since then, opposition captains including former Australian skipper Ricky Ponting, have confirmed the occurrence of on-field bullying by other experienced members of the dressing room. But despite such reveals - and Pietersen’s consistent form since his demise - the South-African born batsman is still banished from the England set-up.
How have England performed since Pietersen’s dropping?
England have enjoyed mixed fortunes since the fifth Ashes test in Sydney. Immediately following that series, they were comprehensively beaten 4-1 in the ODI series and clean-sweeped 3-0 in the T20I series.
Further frustration has continued in the shorter form of the game. They have lost a T20 series in the West Indies, whilst experienced numerous failures in the one-day format. This has included an away loss to Sri Lanka (5-2), home losses to India (3-1) and Australia (3-2), and the spectacular failure to qualify from the group stages of the World Cup last February.
In the longer form of the game, results have been similarly mediocre. They have won home series against India (3-1) and Australia (3-2) but have also lost to Sri Lanka (1-0), drawn with New Zealand (1-1) at home and also drew with the West Indies (1-1) away, before being defeated by Pakistan in the UAE (2-0).
This inconsistent and sub-standard form has been largely due to an inconsistent batting order. Only Joe Root and Alastair Cook have performed respectively over the last two years; they were both named in the ICC test team of the year for their performances in 2015.
The likes of Gary Balance, Adam Lyth and Moeen Ali, just to name a few, have failed to live up to expectations since Pietersen’s departure. Even long-term rock of the middle order, Ian Bell, has been removed from the national set-up during this period.
England’s form has been less than spectacular since Pietersen was dropped. Continual alterations in the batting line-up has been an issue, as well as the lack of experience to keep the team afloat in situations where the likes of Root and Cook haven’t scored runs.
How has Pietersen performed since his demise?
There have been no signs of slowing down from Pietersen since his last match for England. He has spent the majority of the last two years scoring a bulk of runs for a range of T20 franchises around the world.
He has performed particularly well for the Melbourne Stars, scoring over 450 runs in his 13 innings for the franchise. His most recent effort was a match winning 65 not out, which prompted former England captain Michael Vaughan to state it is the best he has seen Pietersen bat in seven years.
However, it is not just with the white ball that Pietersen has performed well in recent times. In a bid for selection in the 2015 Ashes series, he represented English county team Surrey.
His record was remarkable, amassing 469 runs in only four matches. This included a career-best 355 not out from just 396 deliveries, on the same day he met with English hierarchy to discuss his future in the national set-up. It is such mental ability to focus on the job at the hand, despite the influence of exterior pressures, which England have sorely missed since his sacking.
What has been further evident in his time away from the game has been a large misconception of his attitude and personality. Pietersen has regularly spoken to commentators on-field during games for the Melbourne Stars, which has provided great input into his knowledge and respect of the game.
His match awareness has been second to none, often navigating his way through innings to lead the Stars home. The aforementioned innings which gained praise from Vaughan was evidence of this. We have also witnessed on-field banter between himself and other teammates, and some fun and laughs between fellow commentators when he has appeared in the commentary box.
This has included former rivals Brett Lee, Ricky Ponting, Adam Gilchrist and Shane Warne, hence indicating that Pietersen’s continually questioned ego and charisma hasn’t been truly reflected during the years.
What's next for Pietersen and England?
Whilst it appears highly unlikely given the firm stance held by Director of Cricket Andrew Strauss and fellow members of the English hierarchy, Pietersen has no doubt earned the right to represent England again.
His recent form for the Melbourne Stars and other T20 franchises alone should put him in line to represent England at the T20 World Cup, whilst his commitment to the cause would no doubt see Pietersen make another comeback to the red-ball game if there was any indication he could represent his nation in Test cricket again.
However, it goes further than his form. England have no doubt missed an experienced head in the dressing room since Pietersen’s departure. His ability and knowledge would allow for a mentoring role to younger batsman who currently aren’t performing to the required level of an English test batsman.
His on-field presence brings his teammates confidence, whilst ensuring Pietersen is in the national set-up could lead to greater success in the future.
There is little question that England should re-introduce Pietersen in the team as soon as possible.