One retirement theory has already been debunked during the fifth Test but could there be another high-profile exit on the cards after the Ashes finale in Sydney?
That question was posed on Saturday as Kevin Pietersen was tumbled out cheaply again in the midst of a diabolical England batting display on day two at the SCG.
Among those making the suggestion was Ed Cowan, the former Australian opener who once played grade cricket with Pietersen at Sydney University. ‘‘I’ve got a little feeling Kevin Pietersen might be playing his last Test,’’ Cowan said during a commentary stint with ABC Grandstand radio. ‘‘I wouldn’t be surprised if he retired.’’
Whether Cowan had the inside word was unclear but he is not alone in opining that the enigmatic No.4 might be nearing the end of his spectacular and controversial Test career.
Rumours about the immediate future of Brad Haddin were put to rest by the man himself on Saturday but with Pietersen the subject lingers. He is only 33 but questions remain over how much he has to give. He has endured a dismal Ashes campaign – there have been worse performers in the England line-up but by his lofty standards, it has not been up to scratch. He has at times looked disinterested, particularly in the mode of some of his careless dismissals.
It has been a theme of England’s tour from hell – they have been let down by their leaders and senior players. Pietersen, who has been accused by the England cognoscenti of not setting the right example to the likes of Joe Root and Michael Carberry, is, of course, not alone.
Alastair Cook, their captain, has had a sub-par series with the bat and been slammed for perceived negativity in the field, and he plummeted to a new low on Saturday when he was trapped leg before wicket, not offering a shot, by Ryan Harris with the second ball of the day.
And Graeme Swann, who retired mid-tour, also came under fire with claims he threw in the towel selfishly rather than sticking it out with his crestfallen teammates.
The issue of Pietersen’s future is not a new one. Last April, former England captain Andrew Flintoff said he would not be surprised if Pietersen gave the international game away after the back-to-back Ashes and went off to pocket millions in the Indian Premier League and other lucrative Twenty20 competitions around the world.
Former England opener Geoff Boycott also queried the commitment of Pietersen, while calling for the head of coach Andy Flower in a newspaper column a fortnight ago.
‘‘Perhaps both should go after this series and we start afresh building a new team under a new boss ready for the 2015 Ashes,’’ Boycott wrote.
It wasn’t meant to be like this in Australia this summer for Pietersen. In Brisbane, he played his 100th Test, and in Melbourne, he became his adopted country’s fourth highest Test run scorer. No one can argue with his credentials. He has been a match winner in Ashes series victories and England’s other successes dating back to 2005, and exhilarating to watch as well.
At the same time, though, he’s always been seen as his own man, a conclusion that caught fire and has never really gone away since he was reprimanded for sending ‘‘destabilising’’ text messages to friends in the opposing team, South Africa, in 2012. In the messages, he criticised then England captain Andrew Strauss and was subsequently stood down.
Murmurs about Pietersen’s relationships with other England players continued on this tour when Swann, in a parting shot at a mystery cricketer or cricketers, accused some players of being ‘‘up their own backsides’’. The immediate assumption was that he was talking about Pietersen, although that was vehemently denied by Swann.
Whatever the case, this is the last we will see of Pietersen this summer. He is not in England’s one-day or Twenty20 teams for the short-form series that follow.