Pietersen decision looms over Cook
Alastair Cook provided the strongest hint yet that Kevin Pietersen is close to a return to the England side, stating that the time had come to "draw a line in the sand for the sake of English cricket."
Pietersen has not played for England since the second Test of the series against South Africa. After it emerged that he had exchanged "provocative" messages with members of the South Africa touring party, he was omitted from the side for the third Test and then left out of the squad that tried in vain to defend the World Twenty20 and the squad for the Test tour of India.
Pietersen's chances of being added to that tour squad seem to be increasing by the day. He met Cook in Oxford on Tuesday during a flying visit from South Africa and, while all involved are guarded to the point of paranoia about the details - at one stage Cook declined to answer whether he and Pietersen had met for coffee or a meal - it does seem that the "reintegration" process that the ECB claimed that Pietersen had embarked upon with his England colleagues is progressing.
"The process is well on the way," Cook said. "Clearly it has to be behind closed doors, but the meetings are going on and hopefully the best result will come from them.
"We do need to draw a line in the sand at some stage for the sake of English cricket. We need to move forward as a team. We've got an amazing 18 months ahead of us and we need to move together."
Cook admitted that time was running out ahead of the England team's departure for a pre-tour training camp in Dubai - they leave on October 25 - but reiterated the view that the process could not be hurried.
"It is more than a rubber-stamping exercise," he said. "It's a very important decision that we've got to get right for the sake of the England side moving forward. And it's got to be thorough so we can move on in the right way. It's important we don't rush this process so we can get the best result. We want all our world-class players playing for England. You need your world-class players to win games of cricket. You want to be able to pick from the best players you can."
Cook was talking at the launch of the ICC Champions Trophy 2013 which will be held in June next year at The Oval, Cardiff and Edgbaston. Whatever England's travails in other forms of the game, their ODI form in 2012 has been good and Cook knows that Pietersen's return will give his side a decent opportunity to win a global ODI trophy for the first time. Playing at home, in English conditions and with recent changes to ODI playing regulations - such as the use of two new balls - should all be to England's advantage.
While Cook, who as a relative newcomer to England's limited-overs team has never played in a senior global event, is the first to accept that England's position at the top of the ODI rankings should be taken with a pinch of salt, he feels their recent form shows strong evidence of improvement.
England are unbeaten in their last eight ODI series in England and have won seven of them. They also achieved their best ever sequence of ODI results in 2012 with 10 victories in a row extending from the series against Pakistan in the UAE and incorporating victories against West Indies and Australia.
"The ranking for us as an ODI side are not that important," Cook said. "We don't feel like we're the No.1 side. We've a huge amount of work to do. The consistency in our play has to improve. What's important is that we keep trying to improve.
"I think we won 10 games in a row. That's showed we're heading in the right direction, but we've still got a lot of work to do as a side. We've guys who have played 10 or 15 ODIs and when you compare that to teams who have played 200 games, it shows the inexperience we have. We need to keep developing as players and as a squad.
"But we've got a fantastic home record. In these conditions, we've a good chance and the Champions Trophy will give us a really good indication of how we perform in a tournament. We want to win. When we play the Champions Trophy we won't be looking at the World Cup. We won't be picking players for 2015. We'll be picking players to win the Champions Trophy."
The 2013 version will be the last staging of the Champions Trophy. The ICC, reasoning that only one global trophy was required for each format of the game, will instead introduce a World Test Championship from 2017 alongside the World Cup and the World T20.
To help the 2013 event maintain momentum and intensity, it will last only 18 days and comprise just the top eight ODI teams. Tickets prices have been sensibly capped - the top price for the final at Edgbaston is a relatively modest £60 - to reflect the difficult economic climate and the fact that the Ashes later in the English summer may well remain the priority of UK spectators.
However, the ICC and ECB expressed optimism that the ethnic diversity of the UK population should help ensure full houses for the majority of the matches. The ECB will also host the inaugural World Test Championship and the Women's World Cup in 2017 and the World Cup in 2019.
See the best eight teams in one-day international cricket take part in the ICC Champions Trophy in June 2013 - tickets for The Oval, Cardiff and Edgbaston are on sale on 5 November at icc-cricket.com (pre-registration open now)
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo