Abu Dhabi: It seems the vultures are circling. Those who have been waiting for Kevin Pietersen to stumble are ready to strike. They smell blood.
The antipathy towards Pietersen is, in many ways, hard to understand. Perhaps it derives, in part, from his South African heritage. Pietersen has a British parent, a British wife and a British child, but that seems not to be enough for some. Despite living in a mobile, multi-cultural nation, there are some that resent the fact that he was born and raised overseas.
His career record seems not to appease, either. Before Pietersen made his international debut, England had not won the Ashes for nearly two decades and had never won a global event. He played an enormous role in rectifying those blemishes.
In 2005, it was Pietersen's century at The Oval that ensured England held on to win that watershed series. Then he helped England to the World Twenty20 title in the Caribbean in 2010, batting quite superbly and winning the Man-of-the-Tournament award. He has scored 26 international centuries and only Don Bradman scored more runs in his first 25 Tests. Pietersen's contribution to England cricket has been immense.
And he is only 31. He should be coming into his prime.
But that is the problem with Pietersen: he to whom much is given, much is expected of. And Pietersen was given plenty. He has, at times, shown he is capable of greatness, so these forays into mediocrity are all the more frustrating.
There is no concealing the fact that Pietersen is enduring a poor tour of the UAE. He has looked all at sea against spin, has given his wicket away foolishly against seam and missed a relatively simple run-out that could have turned the second Test. He is averaging 4.25 in the Test series, either lunging forward desperately, hitting across the line in panic or guiding the ball to the fielders recklessly.
Yet, just three Tests ago, Pietersen thumped a century against India. In the ten Tests before that, he made two double centuries. Strip away the disappointment and hyperbole and he has simply endured two bad games in succession. It doesn't seem so bad, does it?
It would not be true to say he is a poor player of spin, either. Pietersen enjoyed success against Shane Warne and Muttiah Muralitharan. He has, at times, flourished against the best there have been.
He has earned - like Ian Bell and Andrew Strauss - the right for some patience. Quite rightly, none of them will be dropped in the immediate future, but all three of them face a significant challenge if they are to sustain their Test careers till the end of 2012. Three tours on Asian pitches may well make them or break them. Reputations count for little.
How much patience Pietersen will receive remains to be seen. His relationship with Andy Flower is not the warmest - their differences over the Peter Moores affair were too deep to heal completely - and Pietersen's sometimes abrasive manner will only be tolerated while he is performing. It is hard to imagine he will be extended the same lengthy opportunities to justify his selection as Paul Collingwood enjoyed.
Perhaps that is the problem. Pietersen may appear cocky and brash, but like most who wear the cloak of confidence quite so obtrusively, it conceals insecurity. Pietersen, like everyone else, needs to feel needed and supported and valued. Flower, for all his excellence, might not have the relationship with Pietersen that allows such a rapport. Flower has done wonders for English cricket, but he has not yet coaxed the very best from Pietersen. It may prove to be his only failure.
That is not to say that Pietersen's problems are Flower's fault. Pietersen must take the responsibility for his failings just as he must take the credit for his success. But England would be stronger for a fully firing Pietersen and Flower has yet to find a way to make that happen.
Flower was diplomatic but non-committal when asked about Pietersen on Sunday. "Kevin is now challenged by not scoring any runs in the first two Tests, definitely," Flower said. "But he has a record of working things out. He's a world-class player who has done a lot of great things with a bat in his hand and has helped England win a lot of games. I don't think you should undervalue some of the things he's done recently for us."
There was, however, just a hint of the frustration Flower feels when he commented about Pietersen's plans: "You're not going to learn much about Test batting in the IPL."
There was another interesting moment in a press conference with Flower after the first Test. Asked about Pietersen, he replied, "He has two more chances." At the time most of the media took that to mean on this tour. In retrospect, it might not have meant that at all.
If that is the case, then Pietersen has one more chance to prove what a fine player he can be. If he fails, he will be relying on good will to save him. And that is a resource he may find to be in scarce supply.