Test series begins at Lords this week without one of the biggest stars in international cricket.
Sri Lanka great Kumar Sangakkara has said the tourists are glad not to be facing the “amazing” Kevin Pietersen in a two-Test series against England starting at Lord’s on Thursday.
Pietersen, England’s all-time leading run-scorer across all formats, was dramatically axed from the national side following their 5-0 Ashes thrashing, even though he was the team’s top-scorer in Australia.
The England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) have suggested that a “distracted” and “disinterested” Pietersen, an ex-England captain, was not conducive to dressing-room harmony.
But Sangakkara, himself a world-class batsman, said it took all types of characters to make a successful side.
“I don’t know the reasons for KP’s exclusion but the fact remains that he’s an amazing player,” Sangakkara told Monday’s edition of online magazine Wisden EXTRA.
“I’ve watched him, admired him and he is undoubtedly an out-and-out match-winner.”
“Of course, as an opposition player I’m not disappointed he’s not around.
“We know what damage he could have done to us, and the damage he has done to us before,” said Sangakkara, who in 122 Tests has scored over 11,000 runs, including 35 hundreds, at an average of nearly 59.
The 36-year-old left-hander added Sri Lanka had always valued individuality, with ‘slingshot’ seamer Lasith Malinga a case in point.
“For us, it’s been like that with Lasith. He is very different in the way he looks, and as a person.
“Not everyone gets on well with each other in a team. There are certain people you might not have dinner with, but that doesn’t take away from the fact they will be valuable players in a national cause, going out trying to win matches.
“Without going into details, we’ve had our own issues and difficulties over the years inside the dressing-room and outside it.
“We’ve dealt with that very well as a side, and having 11 similar players is definitely not a positive thing,” Sangakkara insisted.
Earlier on Monday, Pietersen said he felt a sense of “relief” at no longer being involved in the England set-up, although he was saddened by the end of his international career.
“It has been a relief to be out of the dressing room because it was not a pleasant place in Australia,” Pietersen wrote in a column for Britain’s Daily Telegraph newspaper.
“We were losing and in my opinion the environment was poor and I was not alone in thinking that.”
South Africa-born Pietersen, 33, said he believed the writing was on the wall when reports emerged that then England coach Andy Flower wanted him axed at the end of the Ashes.
“After the Sydney Test, a headline came out claiming Flower had said to the ECB it was either ‘him or me’.
“He denied saying that but the damage was done,” Pietersen said of Flower, who quit his post after the Ashes.
“But my relationship with the other players was fine. We had an incredible tour on and off the field.”
Pietersen was accused by some critics of a reluctance to “grind out” runs in Australia.
However, he insisted he was best served sticking to his attacking, if sometimes unconventional, approach.
“I did not score the runs I would have liked in Australia, but I have played a certain way throughout my career and will continue to do so,” explained Pietersen, still with county side Surrey and playing in domestic Twenty20 events in India and the Caribbean.
“What I have done during my career is ignore the ridiculous praise and the ridiculous criticism.
“I have stayed even and been mentally strong enough to keep believing in my methods and what I think is the best way for me to be successful.”
Meanwhile Pietersen, who said he wanted to establish a series of cricket academies around the world for disadvantaged children, joined Sangakkara in citing Malinga as another example of an unorthodox player who’d had international success.
“Look at Lasith Malinga. How the hell does he get wickets bowling like that?
“But his technique works for him. If he was a young England player he would probably have drifted out of the game.”