LIKE a couple of gunslingers eyeing each other on a dusty frontier street, it seems that the England cricket set-up may not be big enough for both Andy Flower and Kevin Pietersen.
Flower was forced to deny the suggestion yesterday, of course, and insisted that no ultimatum had been issued on the future of Pietersen in the Test team. His quick response came after it had been reported extensively that Flower was willing to walk away from his position as team director if the mercurial batsman remained part of the long-term plans of the England and Wales Cricket Board.
Perhaps officials should ask Matt Prior to step in and adjudicate. Not only was the wicketkeeper crucial to the reintegration of Pietersen the last time the South African-born batsman's inclusion was in jeopardy, but it was also revealed that he had talked a man down from the edge of Sydney's Pyrmont Bridge yesterday.
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Prior and Stuart Broad had been walking home from a charity evening when they encountered the man, who had thrown his wallet and phone into the river. Prior helped pull him down from the ledge and chatted with the poor soul until the police arrived.
The problem with Flower and Pietersen, though, is that it seems each would be more than happy for the other to jump. The pair have endured flashpoints before, most notably in the summer of 2012 when Pietersen was left out of the England team after his texting controversy and abrupt decision to retire from one-day internationals.
However, claims that Flower is now ready to move forward without Pietersen, after the 45-year-old coach was given ECB backing to retain his job in the wake of the Ashes debacle, were quickly dismissed. "Following speculation in the media today I feel it necessary to reiterate much of what I said in my recent press conference," Flower said in a statement. "It would be sensible and responsible to review the tour in a calm and logical manner before assessing our options for the future and planning ahead.
"I repeat that neither I nor the wider ECB leadership group have made any decisions as to the future involvement of any individuals in the playing group or in the support staff. The reports that I have issued an ultimatum of some description to the ECB are totally inaccurate."
Pietersen, too, felt the need to comment on the newspaper reports via Twitter, saying he was "shocked and saddened" his England future had again been called into question.
The right-hander had only on Tuesday reaffirmed his commitment to England - following claims that he might opt to retire - by saying that he intended to try to win back the little urn in 2015. Pietersen has also previously stated he would like to become the first England player to reach 10,000 Test runs. "I am shocked and saddened by reports in the media today concerning my future with England," he tweeted. "I wish to repeat my strong desire to continue playing for my country, and to help us regain the Ashes in 2015."
Despite the insistence of both coach and player the matter is unlikely to go away any time soon, and the likeliest flashpoint seems to revolve around the Indian Premier League. Pietersen will be highly coveted, and missing a chunk of the county season may give Flower the ammunition needed to axe the player.
After the Ashes whitewash was confirmed in Sydney last week, Flower revealed his desire to build a "new era" while also pointedly warning that "more pain" would likely be suffered before results turned around. The Zimbabwean had overseen a hat trick of Ashes successes, while England have been top of the rankings in all three formats during his almost five-year tenure. That success has, of course, been in no small measure thanks to the blistering batting of Pietersen.
Michael Vaughan, the former England captain, believes the loss of either would be a major blow, but concedes that something must be wrong. "Andy Flower has seen all the headlines. He might not have said exactly what is reported but there is clearly an issue between him and Kevin Pietersen," Vaughan said.
"The best player, the maverick, the X-factor player is stood on the boundary during games. He is never involved in any of the team discussions. Both of them and the team need space away from each other because it has been such a pressurised tour. Give it a week or so and take a little bit of time to breathe, then have a mature meeting.
"Let's get them both together and try to get English cricket moving forward because it will be a great shame if Kevin Pietersen never represents England again. The dust needs to settle, then people need to bang heads together and get them in a room together and get it sorted out."