Something strange happened when Kevin Pietersen walked out to bat on Monday evening - at least it would have been strange had you been reading the papers. He was applauded, warmly, all the way to the crease, and then cheered equally warmly as he played out the final hour or so to set up his innings today.
It was strange, because if you took your perception of the fans' opinion of KP from the media, you might have been surprised at this unequivocal support. You may also have been under the impression that Pietersen was under pressure for his place, because again, this was the media line.
There has to be a story, because this is how the media works. It's interesting that the most intuitive piece on KP was a simpatico analysis from Mike Brearley in the Observer. This was the story that tuned in best to both the public's and the dressing room's view of KP, and yet it stood alone. Brearley, of course, is not a member of the regular press pack.
There is a question worth asking about the press position on KP: who was the last batsman to be dropped from the England Test team? The answer, excluding injury replacements, is Ravi Bopara in the Ashes of 2009. Before that, it was probably Ian Bell, who pushed selectorial patience beyond the limit in Jamaica. Andrew Strauss, Alastair Cook, Paul Collingwood and Jonathan Trott [in South Africa] were all nursed through lengthy droughts, as Pietersen would have been. His drought, comparatively, has been less severe, yet this point was rarely made.
So did the media want Pietersen to be dropped? As individuals, probably not. But as a story, it would have gone big and KP felt its weight. Like football, the media agenda for cricket is now short-term, even as the England team's strategy stretches the other way.
If Pietersen continues to revive, he will leave a vacuum behind him. It may be filled, even more remarkably, by Andrew Strauss. For the media, his retirement from short-form cricket loosens his grip on power. Now, his dismissals by left-arm bowlers are lining up behind him as more ammunition. A full two Test matches after an Ashes win for the ages, whispers are beginning.
Strauss has got out to a lot of left-arm over bowlers, and like Pietersen, he has a technical issue to address. But batting is a process not a destination, and things change all the time. A generation ago Strauss would have faced Wasim Akram and very few others. In the last year he has encountered Bollinger, Johnson, Amir and Welegedera with Zaheer Khan to come. He is an opener, and openers get out to opening bowlers.
This short-termism is not so much the fault of the journalists as the the wider media, which has increased in speed to keep pace with life. The culture in general is more disposable and it burns through information in its many forms. The England Test team does not run at sufficient speed for its purposes, and a gap between the story and reality is emerging. There always has to be a story, but increasingly, it's created by the authors rather than their subjects.
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