Pietersen to make England return
Kevin Pietersen is set to return to England duty for the first time since August in the opening match of their tour of India.
Pietersen has not played for England since the second Test against South Africa at Headingley but is back to bat at No. 4 against India A in a three-day match in Mumbai, for which Stuart Broad was named vice-captain, a role he will fulfill throughout the tour.
Pietersen's inclusion suggests the reintegration process, put in place to aid his return to the England squad, has been successful. His return follows a 73-day stand-off with the ECB and being initially left out of the India touring party before he signed a four-month central contract and was added to the squad. Now Andy Flower, the England team director, sees no reason why Pietersen shouldn't get his full central contract in due course.
"I hadn't actually thought much about the extension of his contract," Flower said upon arrival in India. "We are focussing on playing well in India. But I don't envisage a problem, I think we can work very well in the future and we have already started that process. We have had some great success and great times over the last few years, and I don't see a problem in the future."
A majority of England's first interaction with the media in India understandably centred around Pietersen. He fell out with the England team during the South Africa series and was dropped for the third Test at Lord's. He has not played for England since and used a YouTube video to state his availability for all forms of international cricket, renouncing his previous retirement from the 50-over format.
Pietersen's return to the England squad required a reintegration process. He interrupted his stay in South Africa for the Champions League T20 to fly back to Britain for meetings with Flower, captain Alastair Cook and other senior players and now Flower is confident the team and Pietersen will be able to put behind them whatever differences they had.
"Whatever label you want to put on it, Kevin is coming back into the team after a few problems that we had in our side," Flower said. "I am confident that we will work well together from now on."
Flower was positive that Pietersen will be back to his best. "It takes a little while to get back into your rhythm and top form but he is an amazing cricketer," Flower said. "Playing T20 cricket, the first few innings he had, he must have been a tad rusty, but he scored a good fifty in the semi-final. With a couple of knocks in the tour games for the Test matches I am sure he will be fine."
Asked if this might be the last chance for Pietersen, who has had a chequered history with the establishment, Flower said, "I don't think of it in those terms at all. I am looking forward to him being involved. I had a long chat with him this morning. We have had a number of chats on the phone and of course he flew back to England just recently. I think we will work well together."
Alastair Cook, captaining the Test side for the first time, said he couldn't wait to have Pietersen back in the side. "We all landed here quite early in this morning, around 5am, so it has been a day of recovery," he said. "We have seen Kev, he is desperate to get going and we are desperate to have him back in the team. As I have always said it is great to have world-class players in our team, and if we play the standard of cricket we know we are capable of we got to have our best players to do that."
Cook said Pietersen's experience in the subcontinent will be great for the side. "As I said it is great to have Kev back and like any batter in the team, he is there to score runs and off the field to pass some of the experience he has got to the rest of the lads," he said. "He has played a huge amount of cricket now - 90 Test matches - and a lot of cricket in the subcontinent as well in the IPL. That experience will be invaluable for us to get used to these conditions as quick as we can."
Pietersen's return at No. 4 means England are likely to open the batting with Nick Compton alongside Cook. There was a possibility that Pietersen might bat at No. 3 with Jonathan Trott opening the innings, but it seems Cook will have to manage the opening task with an inexperienced partner in Compton. At any rate, it will be a little surreal for Cook to walk out with Andrew Strauss not by his side.
"That is one of the biggest changes," Cook said. "It will be strange walking out to bat for England without Andrew Strauss. It was a pleasure to bat with him and it was great knowing such a familiar face down the other end. We are friends off the cricket field, and I think that showed in our relationship when we were batting in the middle.
"It is a shame that it will never happen again but it is a great opportunity for someone else to come and open the batting for England. I made my debut six-and-a-half years ago in India, and it is a great place to open the batting and it is a great opportunity for someone to stick their hands up and make the opening place theirs. There is no better place to bat than opening for England."
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo