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What do England do post-Pietersen?
7:18pm Sunday 10th June 2012 in International
The post-Pietersen era will dawn tomorrow when England name their first limited-overs squads since the retirement of their mercurial game-changer.
Kevin Pietersen's absence augments a head-spinning number of possibilities and opportunities for a new generation of up-and-coming batsmen.
The first complication, of course, is that all of the above must be pared down to the permutations which can be accommodated in a likely 15-man squad for three NatWest Series matches and then a probable 13 for a one-off Twenty20 against West Indies.
A second muddling aspect stems from the fact that former Hampshire player Pietersen's final incarnation as a limited-overs batsman was as an opener, whereas the likeliest lads among those arguably ready to replace him appear to be middle-order specialists.
How to fill the vacancy at the top of the order, alongside Alastair Cook in one-day internationals and Craig Kieswetter in Twenty20, will be among the toughest of the logic problems England's selectors must try to solve.
Is it time, for example, for an Ian Bell recall - and if so, should England's most technically correct batsman be deployed at the top of the order or in Pietersen's previously immovable number four slot?
Or will there be a one-day international debut, at the age of 31, for bang in-form Michael Carberry?
Certainly the Hampshire left-hander ought to be at the head of the queue as the only habitual opener among those as yet on the periphery of selection.
If the ODI equation is to be solved by those names, or maybe that of Steve Davies as a wicketkeeper who can open the batting, that still leaves much conjecture over the identity of Kieswetter's first-wicket partner in the shortest format.
Pietersen replaced Alex Hales against Pakistan in the United Arab Emirates, and the tall Nottinghamshire opener has done little in the intervening months to restate his claims.
One solution, logical after England retained Cook in their squad for three Twenty20s in the desert, is a recall to the shortest format for the ODI captain.
Cook continues to impress with his ability not only to confound doubters by adapting to new challenges, but also ensure he does not compromise what he is already very good at.
England batting coach Graham Gooch knows of old, as Cook's mentor for many years at Essex, that his skills should never be pigeon-holed.
He said as much, in fact, after the first-day washout in the ongoing third Investec Test at Edgbaston.
On the very topic of the opener's chances of adding to just four Twenty20 caps to date, Gooch said: "All I would say is that Alastair Cook, in every level he has played cricket, he has been successful - so you can read into that whatever you like."
Gooch was instructive too about the new breed jostling for batting positions in either of the limited-overs squads.
As a former England opener, and undoubtedly one of his country's greatest, Gooch cannot understand why any batsman would want to do anything else but take on the new ball.
"From my point of view, you get your best players in first," he said.
"But we've got some exciting young players around - Kieswetter, (Jonny) Bairstow, (James) Taylor, (Jos) Buttler - these are all guys who are in and around the (England) Lions and one-day team.
"They are not new names, but they are guys I see taking English cricket forward over the next few years."
England are wedded, in the Andy Flower era, to a policy of ordered progress through the ranks and elevation in turn to the top level.
It is not entirely rigid, but there needs to be good reason to fast-track any individual past other worthy candidates.
That is why Ravi Bopara, Samit Patel and Eoin Morgan - the latter still among England's most effective limited-overs batsmen, despite his Test travails - can expect to keep all but Bairstow waiting in the ODI squad at least.
England's bowling attack, in both formats, is more predictable, with a natural order already in place among the seamers and Graeme Swann and Patel's second string likely to suffice in terms of spin in home conditions.
Possible England squad (v West Indies, NatWest Series): AN Cook (Captain), MA Carberry, IR Bell, IJL Trott, EJG Morgan, RS Bopara, JM Bairstow, C Kieswetter (wkt), TT Bresnan, SCJ Broad, GP Swann, ST Finn, JM Anderson, JW Dernbach, S Patel Possible England squad (v West Indies, NatWest International T20): SCJ Broad (Captain), C Kieswetter (wkt), AN Cook, EJG Morgan, RS Bopara, S Patel, JM Bairstow, TT Bresnan, GP Swann, ST Finn, JW Dernbach, JC Buttler, BA Stokes
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