Pietersen must banish the demons forthwith
England's two Tests in Bangladesh starting on Friday come with a sub-plot that threatens to be more fascinating than the main event.
Kevin Pietersen arrived in international cricket five years ago with such clamour that it seems preposterous for him to be locked in such a grim struggle to find form, and it is all starting to get a little bit out of hand.
It began when he lost the captaincy following an acrimonious tussle with the then coach, Peter Moores.
The ECB, as the employer of both men, sacked Moores and was about to do the same to Pietersen when, in January 2009, the skipper announced his resignation. He has been a shadow of his normal self since then.
In 2008 he hit five Test centuries; he has only managed one since, in the West Indies. Even taking into account the three Ashes Tests he missed through injury, that's still 12 Tests with just one three-figure score, a barren run by his standards.
The situation is even worse in one-day internationals when in the same period of time he has a best score of 48 in 10 innings.
It is important to add that Twenty20 cricket is providing some much-needed respite, but the really worrying aspect of Pietersen's demise is that things appear to be getting progressively worse in the more established formats.
Bangladesh A wicketkeeper Saghir Hossain is most amused by Pietersen's plight
His last four scores in the Tests in South Africa? 0, 6, 7 and 12. His best score in the ODIs in Bangladesh? 22. His scores in the three-day match just completed against Bangladesh A? 2 and 20.
The strangest thing about Pietersen's current demise is his vulnerability when facing orthodox left-arm spin.
A variety of slow bowling often purveyed by those who seek chiefly to contain - think Ashley Giles - the angles have so bewildered Pietersen that he has now perished 33 times in his international career to bowlers like Daniel Vettori (New Zealand), Yuvraj Singh (India), Sulieman Benn (West Indies), and even Canada's Sunil Dhaniram.
England's best spinner of the 1990s, Phil Tufnell, was also a slow left-armer, and believes that while there are technical issues that need to be tinkered with, Pietersen will soon return to form.
"I'm sure Andy Flower and the coaching team are looking into it as we speak," Tufnell told me.
"It's one of those things. Some batsmen can't play the short ball and keep getting out on the hook. When I came out to bat I just got a lot of bouncers because I was a bit scared.
"With Pietersen at the moment he seems to be getting out to the slow left-armers. He looks a little bit unsure in his defence and that means you don't have a steady platform to attack.
"There's a technical issue in that he is not a natural off-side player, he doesn't defend to mid-off. He wants to hit through the on-side but if his head is too far over he's an lbw candidate. Then if it turns a little bit he can find himself nicking to slip."
Tufnell, who firmly refutes the idea that Pietersen should be dropped from the England set-up, even temporarily, also refuses to buy into the notion that the loss of captaincy is a factor.
Instead he feels the Achilles injury that kept him out of cricket for much of last year might have had a bigger impact.
"Batting should be second nature to someone like him. But the injury might have been quite a bit more serious than we anticipated and I don't think it's helped his agility at the crease."
Bangladesh's cricket team may be deficient in some aspects, but in slow left-arm stocks they are not.
No less than three have been picked in their squad for Friday. England, on the other hand, have only one variety of spinner - Graeme Swann and James Tredwell both turn the ball the other way - so Pietersen can only rely on local net bowlers to practice his skills against slow left-arm.
It might have been an idea for Giles, now an England selector, to fly out and lend a hand. But currently donning his other hat as Warwickshire's director of cricket he is instead on a plane to South Africa for the county's pre-season tour.
Though he also had problems facing seam bowlers in the past 15 months, it is spinners of every variety who are likely to test Pietersen's resolve in England's next two Tests.
Pietersen's final day century in the 2005 Ashes seems a very long time ago
Robin Smith, the last high-profile England batsman prior to Pietersen to have learnt his art in South Africa, became bedevilled by the slow stuff late in his career. He was once memorably compared by The Independent's Martin Johnson to a "lion in a delicatessen" and the same can apply to Pietersen.
When a batsman with Pietersen's strength and talent suddenly lacks confidence when facing spin, the game of cricket can look mystifying indeed.
The trouble is, if he doesn't get out poking around like an old lady at a church fete he gets out playing an expansive shot, which is exactly what happened when he was bowled by part-timer Mohammad Ashraful on Wednesday. Which, exactly, is the more pernicious mode of dismissal?
"You can create a lot of doubt in your mind," says Tufnell.
"It really is about playing every ball on its merits, but that does come with confidence and having a really sound defence."
So, just eight months from an Ashes series, England fans have every right to be concerned that the most naturally destructive batsman in the land is currently firing blanks.
If there is one man who can differentiate between form and class it is Steve Waugh, who said recently of Pietersen: "He is a great player and great players save their best for the toughest opposition.
"He will have a big series against Australia, I have no doubt about it, and will most likely be England's leading run-scorer."
When a man who has won as many Test matches as Waugh is in your camp, surely things cannot be that bad.
But it would help a great deal if we did not have to wait beyond the two Tests in Chittagong and Dhaka to see Pietersen find his mojo.