Pietersen's gamble too far
Kevin Pietersen always has been a man to chance his arm.
Perhaps no-one should be surprised that someone who happily switch-hits one of the world's best spinners for six risked his job as England captain in a who-blinks-first contest with Peter Moores and the ECB.
This time, however, the gamble has not paid off. After a mere three Tests as England skipper, the reign of King KP appears to have come to a rapid end.
There's something terribly English about the whole sorry shaboodle. Just as the Australian team looks to be at its weakest in a quarter of a century, with a home Ashes series just around the corner and barely a ticket left for any of the five Tests, English cricket has taken careful aim and shot itself in both feet.
Other countries lose their head coach. Others lose captains. It's to be expected. But it takes a special kind of skill to lose both coach and captain on the same morning.
It's less than six months since Pietersen began his captaincy with that blistering century and win in his first Test in charge, less than four weeks since he was praised to the rooftops for his handling of the team in leading them back to India after the terrorist attacks in Mumbai.
Even then, however, the whispers were circulating.
Pietersen was unhappy with Moores' boot-camp approach to training. Senior players were unhappy with Pietersen's leadership style. Pietersen wanted Michael Vaughan back in his team; Moores did not.
Something had to give. Coaches and captains have to respect each other, if nothing else.
England's rebirth after the low point of home defeat to New Zealand in 1999 came about in large part because of the relationship forged between skipper Nasser Hussain and coach Duncan Fletcher, and continued with the mutual admiration society of Fletcher and Michael Vaughan. When coach and captain saw things differently, as Fletcher and Andrew Flintoff did during the last Ashes series, results went downhill fast.
What no-one foresaw was that Pietersen would be the one to go. While his record as Test captain was perfectly average - one win, one draw and one loss - his star was still in the ascendancy.
He was averaging 52 in both Tests and one-dayers as skipper, up on his numbers before his appointment as captain, and clearly relished being the man in charge.
As his former Hampshire and England team-mate Shaun Udal says, KP wanted the job as England captain "very, very badly".
Moores, having lost four of his seven series as coach, was supposed to be the man in danger.
That both have lost their jobs leaves England rudderless, drifting slowly towards the rocks at exactly the time when a firm hand at the tiller was required.
They leave for the tour of the West Indies in exactly two weeks. In that time the ECB must find a new captain and a new coach, reunite a team seemingly split in two and then convince the rest of the country that this time they've made appointments that will work.
What now for Pietersen? This is the first real set-back he has suffered since leaving his native South Africa in 2001.
The captain's job was the pinnacle of his career. Having lost it once, he's unlikely to be offered it again.
Will the siren call of the IPL now drown out his loyalties to England?
His adopted country must hope not. Pietersen's Test average is better than anyone else's in the team. In the last Ashes series, he scored 490 runs at over 50 an innings. Without him, a middle order which is already patchy starts to look positively threadbare.
England cannot afford to lose him as a batsman. And even if he does commit to the cause - and Pietersen has always been intent on becoming the best Test batsman in the world - how does his ego cope with being demoted to the ranks?
Whoever takes over as Test captain could find himself in charge of a team that contains four previous captains - KP, Flintoff, Paul Collingwood and Vaughan - with his star batsman bursting with resentment.
Then there's the one-day team, thrashed in its last five matches, tactically exposed, so far behind the pace this winter that it became embarrassing.
The likely Test captain, Andrew Strauss, is not in the one-day squad for the Windies tour. Unless the selectors decide to perform a humiliating about-turn, that means a return to split captains, something which has failed every time it's been tried in the past.
Pietersen's singlemindedness and self-belief have been key to the success he's enjoyed as an international cricketer. Unfortunately they may also now have contributed his downfall as England skipper.
Ricky Ponting must have gone to sleep in Sydney wearing a smile the size of the harbour bridge.