Pietersen dilemma for England

KEVIN PIETERSEN

KEVIN PIETERSEN

First published in Sport

Will necessity triumph over principle? That is the central question set to be answered tomorrow when England's selectors name a Test squad to travel to India - with or without Kevin Pietersen .

There is no doubt the presence of their most gifted batsman will be a major advantage in an otherwise worryingly inexperienced batting line-up's pursuit of the totals needed to be competitive in four Tests on the sub-continent.

That fact will not be lost on new captain Alastair Cook - a pragmatist on the pitch and thought to value a similarly, if politely, hard-nosed approach off it too.

It is perhaps instructive as well that, when former Hampshire player Pietersen was falling out with so many of his team-mates - not to mention coach Andy Flower and former captain Andrew Strauss - Cook's name was never to the fore.

That relative distance appears to be a telling factor for those prepared to stake their reputations on predictions that Pietersen will after all be welcomed back into the fold.

A welcome is what it must be too.

Flower, and his new lieutenant Cook, are wise heads and will know there can be no half-measures.

Either Pietersen has satisfied the grave concerns over his behaviour and has served his time by missing the imminent defence of England's ICC World Twenty20 crown - or he most definitely has not.

Flower and Strauss were at pains, as they tried to wring out a confession and apology from Pietersen over the content of ''provocative'' text messages he sent to opposition players during the Headingley Test against his native South Africa, that this was a situation with no quick-fix solution.

He could not simply waltz back into England's Test plans, as he clearly felt he would in his infamously contrite YouTube interview on the eve of his de-selection for the Lord's Test.

First, he must satisfy team-mates and management that he had seen the error of his ways; second, and it seems just as important, there must be an appropriate passage of time.

England appeared to leave the door open for Pietersen to do the right thing till the very last minute, when they delayed their squad announcement for that match at HQ last month.

But once he did not take that opportunity, the road back would have to be longer.

That way, the message would surely hit home that his England future depended on an agreement in good faith not just with the terms of his employers but their management style too.

Mutual respect and trust is a non-negotiable starting point and finish line with Flower; it was too with Strauss, and surely Cook.

These are people who do not appear to easily make allowances or exceptions for prodigals or mavericks - not unless they are met at least halfway, at any rate.

Pietersen blatantly failed to do any such thing over the past six months, so if wriggle room does enter the equation after all for Flower it will be on the triplicate assurance that the renegade stays in line from now on.

So much then for England's most vexed issue. It will all come out in the wash tomorrow.

But there are other decisions which must be made, some dependent on the Pietersen solution, which will help to define careers as well as impact England's prospects in India.

Strauss' retirement leaves a void at the top of the order, and Pietersen's presence or otherwise will determine whether England need to promote or recall one or two batsmen.

Eoin Morgan, the fall guy of England's shock 3-0 defeat against Pakistan in the United Arab Emirates last winter, received an England and Wales Cricket Board central contract when Pietersen did not this month - and for that reason many expect him to return if there is a vacancy in the middle order, where the out-of-sorts Ravi Bopara's presence would represent a gamble.

At the top of most lists as potential openers are young Yorkshireman Joe Root, the remodelled and prolific Nick Compton - once of Middlesex, now Somerset - and the still more widely-travelled, domestically, Michael Carberry  who helped Hampshire to CB40 glory on Saturday.

The suspicion is that Root, touted by many good judges, needs more time and first-class substance; Carberry has one Test on his CV, opening alongside then temporary captain Cook in Bangladesh, where he fared acceptably.

But after his outstanding summer, Compton - who can open or bat at three - may marginally sneak the vote.

In any case, England are also about to announce a Performance Programme squad who will travel to India too for their own itinerary.

Their proximity, should reinforcements be required, gives the selectors an insurance policy in all departments.

Therefore, whoever makes either squad - Pietersen could yet be invited back via the second string - may still notionally be in the reckoning to face India in what promises to be an especially tough examination of England's credentials.

Possible England Test squad, v India: AN Cook (Captain), IJL Trott, IR Bell, KP Pietersen, JWA Taylor, JM Bairstow, MJ Prior (wkt), SCJ Broad, GP Swann, ST Finn, JM Anderson, TT Bresnan, G Onions, SR Patel, NRD Compton, EJG Morgan.

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