England v NZ, 2nd Investec Test, Headingley

Pietersen shadow lingers over England

Headingley still evokes memories of Kevin Pietersen's 2012 outburst but it now offers a further audition for his post-reintegration understudies

David Hopps

May 23, 2013

Comments: 12 | Text size: A | A

Alastair Cook addresses the media under cloudy skies, England v New Zealand, 2nd Investec Test, Headingley, May 23, 2013
Alastair Cook: "I think we all know when Kevin comes back and he is fit his record and his class demands that he plays for England" © Getty Images
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England are back at Headingley, the place where less than a year ago Kevin Pietersen flipped his lid and delivered his infamous "it's tough being me" lament. The reverberations of that were felt for months. England omitted him from their World Twenty20 squad in Sri Lanka and it was only after a triumphant Test tour of India that, as Matt Prior's tweet put it, his reintegration was complete.

Life has rushed on apace and this time at Headingley England are not bemoaning Pietersen's behaviour, but regretting his absence. He is out of the Champions Trophy, but the assumption remains that he will be back for the Ashes.

That makes the second Test against New Zealand an audition, with the batting understudy who most stumbles over his lines likely to be dropped when the distingué is back in town.

Alastair Cook is not the first England captain to be wearied by the Pietersen analysis. But the debate is understandable. History cannot be waved aside so easily.

And there seems to be tension between how many first-class matches England and Surrey would ideally like Pietersen to play before the Trent Bridge Test - three - and how much first-class cricket Pietersen wants to play, which is probably also three, except that he is counting in minutes. He has not wanted to play in the Championship since the days of the skunk hairstyle.

"It's unfortunate he is not playing in this Test match and in the Champions Trophy with injury," Cook said. "He's a world class player and in any line-up he will help. A lot of water has gone under that bridge from where we were a year ago.

"He's progressing well from his injury. There is obviously some more information over the next couple of weeks that we will receive. But chatting to him last week at Lord's he sounded positive, and fingers crossed. With injuries you're not quite sure how they're healing but it sounded as if he was making good progress."

Pietersen has a right to be regarded as an automatic selection. His knee injury is just that, an injury, not yet worthy of MI6 investigation. No matter how long his Ashes warm-up, or how brilliant the stand-ins might be at Headingley over the next five days, Cook would not contemplate any debate over Pietersen's right to an Ashes place.

"I think we all know when, hopefully, Kevin comes back and he is fit, his record and his class demands that he plays for England pretty much," he said. "His record allows him to do that. If any batter scores runs it's very hard to leave him out. That's how selection works.

"So of course that creates competition for places and the guys in the changing room will be desperate to score runs. That's good for us in this game because we need as many runs as we can. I don't think it will give the batsmen any extra motivation because I don't think you need any extra motivation when you're playing for England, but we all know that's the situation."


It was a thrilling innings by Kevin Pietersen to lift England, England v South Africa, 2nd Investec Test, Headingley, 3rd day, August 4, 2012
Kevin Pietersen made 149 at Headingley last August before suggesting that his England career could be nearing an end © Getty Images
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England have no intention of being pressganged into making room for Pietersen by dropping Nick Compton and moving Joe Root up the order. They have made their plans around Compton, even while recognising his limitations, Root is relishing his early Test cricket lower in the order, and Jonny Bairstow, the favourite to be omitted when Pietersen returns, has not done enough to challenge that preconception.

"I'm sure down the line at some stage in the future of course you will see Joe Root opening the batting, because that's where he bats, but Compo's got the shirt at the moment and he fully justifies that selection," Cook said. "We all know selection can change, of course it can. But Compo has shown us the determination and the talent he's got at the top of the order and the character you need to fight there and he's got to continue doing that."

The media cannot get through the day without considering the Ashes, so much so that the Champions Trophy - which brings the best eight nations to England next month for an ICC world event - might as well be taking place in Bolivia. England, meanwhile, have been accused of banning talk of the Ashes. Perhaps the players have a better sense of proportion.

Cook dismissed suggestions that it extended as far as a ban: "We've got to make it quite clear the word has not been banned in the changing room, it's just very important as a sports team and as cricketers that you stay in the present; that's how you have to live your life.

"We all know that's how you have to operate in the here and now. So you remind everyone that's how we operate and that's how you get the best results, because if you start thinking about what could happen you can take your eye off the ball. I don't think any of the guys have been doing that. I think we've been fantastic in this series so far."

For those of you who can't concentrate over the next five days, the Ashes start on July 10.

David Hopps is the UK editor of ESPNcricinfo

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© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by TallHawk on (May 24, 2013, 14:36 GMT)

I've been following English cricket since the early 80's and Pietersen is the best batsmen to play for England during that time by a mile. No-one else comes close. The only reason that fact is not more obvious is that England have some pretty good batsmen just now at the peak of their careers. But when he's not there, he's still missed - you can't replace him. Any team, in any format, in any country would be stronger with Pietersen in. If Pietersen isn't fit the Aussies will have a sniff, especially if Anderson picks up an injury too. If they both play the Aussies have virtually no chance, in the home series anyway.

Posted by trav29 on (May 24, 2013, 13:23 GMT)

@Charlie

agree , it is rather amusing that bopara actually has a better FC batting average than 2 or 3 of the likely Australian top6 for this summer

Posted by Charlie101 on (May 24, 2013, 13:01 GMT)

I find Randy Oz comments extremely funny as usual , especially as Bopara would walk / stroll into the Aussie team at the moment ( ODI team as well ) .

Posted by rienzied on (May 24, 2013, 7:08 GMT)

Sadly not a team man at all, it's very much about himself and like warne, great players but their ego gets in their way of making decisions...

Posted by Mayan820 on (May 24, 2013, 7:07 GMT)

Am I reading this correctly . . . England is the side in deep trouble, before the ashes I take it. Ha, ha, ha . . . As a South African I find this hilariously funny. Well, come to think of it, if RandyOZ is not going to talk up the very average 4th ranked Ausie test side before the Ashes, who will? This I will say of him, which is good - He is a true die hard, albeit desperate, Ausie supporter.

Posted by ben.p. on (May 24, 2013, 6:38 GMT)

Alastair Cook doesn't leave anything to chance when making a point, does he? 'I'm sure down the line/at some stage/in the future...' Just one of those would have done.

Posted by jmcilhinney on (May 24, 2013, 2:20 GMT)

"That makes the second Test against New Zealand an audition, with the batting understudy who most stumbles over his lines likely to be dropped when the distingué is back in town". I very much doubt that. Given Root's performances so far, Bairstow would have to outperform him by an enormous margin for Root to be the one to miss out for the Ashes. That said, it's still important for Bairstow personally to reinforce his position as the next batsman in because there may be another injury between now and that Ashes series or even during the series. Bairstow has shown, with his performance against SA and his innings for the Lions against NZ, that he can score against international attacks. His opportunities have been so sporadic that it's been hard to get a roll on but he really could use a good performance here. One problem for him is that, if the team do do well, he might not get too much opportunity. He'd probably be happy to come in at about 4/250 in the first and hit a good hundred.

Posted by   on (May 23, 2013, 23:12 GMT)

6-2 England (over the 10 Ashes tests) is apperently 14-1... GET ON!

Posted by Front-Foot-Lunge on (May 23, 2013, 19:21 GMT)

@ Tahmid Chowdhury : If you think that's amusing, you should've seen the content before the last Ashes or the 2012 whitewash. It's to be treasured, not analysed over! Swann didn't get a bowl last match because the seamers took all the wickets and suddenly he's in 'terrible form'! lol, Ashes defeats are a hard thing for Randy to get over clearly. I almost died laughing when I read this one!

Posted by cabinet96 on (May 23, 2013, 18:54 GMT)

@RandyOZ I like how players that are out of form are out of form, but players that are in form are using up all their good performances before the Ashes. Consistency of thought and logic isn't your strong point is it?

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David Hopps David Hopps joined ESPNcricinfo as UK editor early in 2012. For the previous 20 years he was a senior cricket writer for the Guardian and covered England extensively during that time in all Test-playing nations. He also covered four Olympic Games and has written several cricket books, including collections of cricket quotations. He has been an avid amateur cricketer since he was 12, and so knows the pain of repeated failure only too well. The pile of untouched novels he plans to read, but rarely gets around to, is now almost touching the ceiling. He divides his time between the ESPNcricinfo office in Hammersmith and his beloved Yorkshire.
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