After England’s narrow escape in Dunedin, the team’s coach, Andy Flower, was asked about the state of Kevin Pietersen’s knee. His reply was immediate and short. “I don’t anticipate it being a huge problem for us at all,” he said.
This week, Pietersen flew home to seek a specialist review of the injury, out of the third and deciding Test against New Zealand, his tour over, and absent from cricket for at least six weeks. Perhaps it depends on the precise definition of huge in this context but a problem of some kind there certainly is.
He left behind a team desperate to justify their status as series favourites. The absence might or might not have influenced the bold decision to field made by England's captain, Alastair Cook, after winning the toss in the third Test.
For most of the opening session it was looking not only bold but reckless. New Zealand, who insisted they too would have bowled first, were looking in easy control on a slow-paced surface until Hamish Rutherford cut Steve Finn in the air to first slip two overs before the interval, which they reached at 79 for 1.
Until then, England had created few opportunities, the ball passing the bat only when the batsmen let it go. The short straight boundaries at the converted rugby stadium aggravated the tourists' difficulties.A completely muffed hook from Fulton flew for six and then Rutherford struck Monty Panesar over cover and long on, clearing the boundary guardians with ease.
Pietersen had said goodbye to all this a few hours earlier. Apart from this match, he will miss the Indian Premier League in which he is contracted to play for Delhi Daredevils and if the timetable of his recovery is accurate he will assuredly struggle to be ready in time for the home series against New Zealand which starts in mid-May. If surgery is required, the Champions Trophy and the Ashes themselves will be in doubt.
There was a mildly unconcerned air about the long-term prospects for the knee. For a start, Pietersen showed up at England's final training session before the third Test and took part in fielding drills. He did not bat but sat at the back of the nets and watched his colleagues.
Cook then adopted a thoroughly positive attitude beginning with his agreement that they expected Pietersen to get through the series. "Clearly, it was done on a game-by-game basis" he said. "Before every game, especially after that warm-up game when he started to feel it, you start to assess. He felt he could get through, and we felt he could get through, those two games.
"This game might be a step too far. It's important now we don't jump to too many conclusions. He goes home and gets to see the specialist, and sees exactly what's wrong with him."
Pietersen first complained of pain in his knee before the warm-up match in Queenstown but then was able to play two more Tests. He was off the field for treatment occasionally during the first Test in Dunedin but that did not prevent Flower's bullishness afterwards.
Although Pietersen's reintegration with the team seems to be complete, following his sensational omission for the final Test against South Africa last August because of a dispute with the team management, it is never possible to be certain where he is concerned.
It should be know within days whether Pietersen will need an operation but everything about the mood in the tourists' camp suggested the prognosis was good. Cook said: "It's getting blown a little bit out of proportion. He's had a bit of a bad knee, and it's got progressively worse – and we've made a decision now that he's going home to have it looked at."
It was Cook who backed Pietersen on taking over the captaincy from Andrew Strauss and he went out of his way then, as he has done since, to stipulate that he wanted the best team available. Lest there was any doubt Cook cleared it up: "It's important he's fit as soon as he can be. You do look sometimes at future planning, but I think if this was an Ashes Test match he wouldn't be playing in it."
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