England's coach, Andy Flower, has challenged Craig Kieswetter to raise his game after a disappointing run of scores during the recent one-day campaign against Australia and Bangladesh, or face the prospect of being dropped for the five ODIs against Pakistan in September that take place after the Test series.
Back in February, the South Africa-born Kieswetter was a controversial inclusion in England's one-day plans, as he was drafted into the squad for the tour of Bangladesh, only days after completing his residency qualification, on the strength of a matchwinning half-century for the England Lions in a warm-up match in Abu Dhabi.
He justified that leap of faith by scoring a maiden ODI hundred in his third match, against Bangladesh in Chittagong, and then went on to play a pivotal role in England's triumphant World Twenty20 campaign in the Caribbean, scoring brisk runs at the top of the order in partnership with Michael Lumb, and sealing the title with a Man-of-the-Match-winning 63 from 49 balls in the final against Australia.
Since then, however, his returns have dropped off. Aside from a quickfire 69 against Scotland, he managed 121 runs at 15.12 in eight ODIs against Australia and Bangladesh, and at a tepid strike-rate of 77.07. His highest score in that period was the 38 from 44 balls he scored in the first ODI against the Aussies at the Rose Bowl, while a susceptibility to the moving ball was underlined at Edgbaston on Monday, when he was bowled by Mashrafe Mortaza for a duck, the fourth time his stumps had been rattled in that period.
"Craig has had an interesting time of it recently," said Flower. "He's gone from scoring a hundred in his third ODI, to getting the Man of the Match award in the Twenty20 World Cup final, and being a World Cup winner, when a lot of English players haven't [achieved that]. So he's up there doing that and achieving that, and then he's had a bit of a hard one-day series. But international cricket can do that to you. It can teach you some lessons and perhaps expose a few doubts."
Given that he is still only 22, Kieswetter's talent and promise for the future is undisputed, but with a World Cup fast approaching in February next year, Flower is aware of a certain urgency to settle England's gameplan if they are to emerge as genuine contenders for the title. First and foremost, the onus is on Kieswetter to decide how he wants to craft his innings, and with a two-month hiatus before the one-day squad reassembles in September, Flower has told him that the hard work starts now.
"I think in the long run for Craig it might be a very healthy thing to have happened, in that by the time he plays for England again, he'll need to have made his package stronger," Flower said. "There are a number of things he can learn from the last nine one-day internationals, and it is his job and responsibility to go away, work hard with Somerset and come back a stronger package.
"He's got to work it out for himself, obviously with some help on the way," Flower added. "He's got a good coach at Somerset in Andy Hurry, and some good people to work with like [Marcus] Trescothick, and it's the same in our set-up, where Graham Gooch has been working with him recently. All those guys might help, but it's up to Craig to find his method."
His method was pretty uncomplicated at first. Kieswetter was chosen as England's one-day wicketkeeper ahead of the previous incumbent, Matt Prior, because of his proven ability to pierce the field in the Powerplay overs, particularly with his booming drives up and over the covers. But he's had less opportunity to display that trait in recent matches, during which time his opening partner Andrew Strauss has shown him that crease occupation is the best means of racking up a score in English conditions.
"I don't really use the word pinch-hitter myself, but he's an aggressive opening batsman for us, pretty much in the mould of Jayasuriya or Gilchrist," said Flower. "He's got the capacity to play that type of game, there's no doubt about that, because he's very, very talented, and hits the ball beautifully, as well as I've ever seen anyone hit the ball. But he's got to work out how to score runs. Jayasuriya did it, as an attacking opening bat [and so must he]."
Since being dropped from the one-day side, Prior has been scoring runs for fun in county cricket for Sussex, and Flower hinted that a recall to the limited-overs squad would not be out of the question. "There is a difference in English conditions," he said. "You learn and adjust to the different conditions, that's one option. The other is that we change our tactics in England, and we'll make those decisions closer to the Pakistan series."