Pietersen secures IPL release
Kevin Pietersen's attempt to regain his England place has been confirmed as deadly serious by his announcement that he has negotiated his release from the group stages of the IPL to try to stage a dramatic international comeback.
Sunrisers Hyderabad have agreed to release Pietersen for the entire first phase of the 2015 IPL, although they will have the right to recall him for the final week - should they so wish - if they reach the knockout stages of the competition.
There are no certainties, no guarantees. Pietersen could add a final twist to a remarkable international career or he could end up with egg on his face. He could finish the Ashes series against Australia this summer a national hero, or he could become hurt and disillusioned, railing at captains, coaches and selectors once more as his dreams remain unfulfilled.
Pietersen, a four-time Ashes winner and England's highest run-scorer across all formats, announced on his own website that he will now "join a domestic county with the aim of earning a place in the England squad for the upcoming Ashes series".
That county looks certain to be Surrey - and that attempt to earn an Ashes place must include such a weight of early season runs that some very powerful figures in English cricket, all of them loath to countenance his return, will have to bow to the inevitability of the statistics before them. The whole shebang is likely to begin with a Division Two Championship fixture against Glamorgan in Cardiff on April 19.
There is another potential Test series in England before the Ashes, of course, although it seems to be escaping the attention of many, Pietersen included. England, who are about to embark upon a three-Test tour in the Caribbean, then return to host New Zealand in May.
The first New Zealand Test is at Lord's where Paul Downton, the managing director of England cricket, told Pietersen his England career was over. The second is at Headingley, home of the incoming ECB chairman Colin Graves, whose off-the-cuff exhortation for him to first make runs in county cricket if he wanted to be considered for England again, has given him hopes of adding to his 104 Test caps.
"I'm hugely grateful for all the support and understanding I've received from everyone at the Sunrisers and the IPL," Pietersen said.
"My focus is now very much on the upcoming season in England and I'm absolutely determined to score as many runs as possible.
"I've never made any secret of my overwhelming desire to once again represent England and I'm going to do everything in my power to earn a recall to the international set-up.
"To once again put on that England shirt would be a privilege and an honour, but now I have to focus on performing domestically and give myself the best possible chance of meriting selection."
Pietersen has reasons to be grateful to the IPL. He signed a legally binding contract when Sunrisers bought him in the player auction last month for his base price of Rs 2 crore (£210,000). He could have faced legal action if he did not fulfil his commitments, but there would have been little advantage in forcing a player to play in the IPL against his will when his personal circumstances had suddenly changed and his ambitions lay elsewhere.
Graves, who officially takes up office as ECB chairman at the beginning of May, will be an administrator who knows his own mind, but he is not blind to the fact that his powers do not go as far as selecting the Test side.
Pietersen has had more than one telephone conversation with Graves to clarify his position and intends to meet him in person next week after his commentary stint for BBC radio at the World Cup.
It is difficult to see what Graves can promise beyond the fact that he will be treated fairly - and even that likelihood does not change the perception that Pietersen's hopes are fanciful. Michael Vaughan, the former England captain and a close ally of Graves at Yorkshire, has calculated his chances of playing in the Ashes at 10% - perhaps now up to 15.
But there remains uncertainty over the future of Downton, his most implacable opponent, whose attempt to impose his authority on English cricket by sacking Pietersen in the wake of a 5-0 Ashes defeat tipped England into one of the most divisive years in their history and brought widespread disillusionment at a time when cricket was struggling to hold its appeal. Were Pietersen to return, Downton's position looks untenable.
Alastair Cook, England's Test captain, also opposes a return for Pietersen and last week described his return as "highly unlikely", making reference to the divisive nature of an autobiography in which Pietersen ridiculed team-mates, management and the ECB. None of the England selectors are lobbying for a recall; nor is the coach, Peter Moores.
There is also no certainty that Pietersen will score heavily in Championship cricket, even in Division Two, even driven by millions of well-wishers from beyond the England set-up. It will be intriguing to see the depth of his resolve and whether his Ashes dreams can be furthered on a day when county cricket is at its least enticing, when there is drizzle in the cool, spring air, the wind whistles round largely deserted stands and the pitch is a haven for the sort of jobbing seamers who he recently characterised as "muppets". No wicket will be more keenly sought, or have more words written about it.
What English cricket now has is momentum - and after a dreadful World Cup campaign it was sorely in need of it. Cook will be desperate to lead England to a convincing Test series win against West Indies to suggest that this is not the time for turning back, and the Championship will have the chance to remind everyone that, small crowds or not, it retains a central place in English cricket. Graves will regard that as how it should be.
If Pietersen really is to play for England again then T20 - the only format of the game that he has played for the past 14 months - offers an easier route back. His best chance of an England recall appears to be a Twenty20 international against New Zealand at Old Trafford on June 23, a possible prelude to dressing-room reintegration and a place at the World Twenty20 in India next year.
That really would be the final irony: Pietersen chooses four-day Championship cricket in England ahead of T20 in India and is rewarded with a chance to play a World Twenty20 in India. It is not the outcome he most wants. It is the outcome he is most likely to achieve. Quite how he would feel about that somewhat illogical conclusion would be anybody's guess.
David Hopps is the UK editor of ESPNcricinfo @davidkhopps