Cook cool over Pietersen but will India turn up?
It has taken much longer than expected but there is at last the prospect of a series which meets the proper requirements of international cricket. With any luck, the one-day matches between England and India which begin today in Durham will be competitive, close and classy.
If the tourists can do anything other than turn up, the next fortnight should be a more alluring spectacle than the recent Test series between the sides. England played wonderfully to win 4-0 but India, who arrived as the top-ranked team, were deeply disappointing and, by the end, getting to the ground on time was the height of their achievement.
As World Cup winners, much is expected of them once more against an England side whose course now is already set on the 2015 event. But this has been a difficult trip for India and on late-season English pitches it may not necessarily become easier.
England may have made life a touch more strenuous for themselves by the omission of Kevin Pietersen who, according to official bulletins, is being rested. If it is true that his limited-overs form in the past two years has been fitful, with only two fifties in his last 30 innings, it is also the case that he has returned this summer to his scintillating peak as a Test batsman. He is a player any captain would want in his side.
It was therefore surprising when Alastair Cook, whose second full series in charge this is, offered only the scantest of encouragement yesterday. It was not quite a case of denying him thrice but he didn't exactly nail his colours to Pietersen's mast.
"KP is a world-class player," said Cook. "We have said that as part of the management of players, he is being rested for this series." Asked if he would voice a preference for Pietersen to be in the squad which is due to visit India in October, Cook said: "It is part of the programme to rest players and look after people who play all three forms of the game, but there's no guarantee for anyone. We haven't had that selection meeting yet." And pressed on the matter of whether he would want Pietersen in his 50-over side, Cook said: "There's no guarantee for anyone."
It may be that Pietersen is indeed being rested but such has been his return to form that it has offered the opportunity for conspiracy theories. Pietersen himself has tweeted: "Always a sad time to leave the England team when they carrying on [sic] with a series. Hope the winning ways continue." Not perhaps the words of a man who wished to be rested.
England's selectors, reportedly unimpressed by Pietersen's early departure from the World Cup with a hernia, may be making a point that they pick the side. The No 4 spot, occupied by Pietersen for much of the last five years, will be taken for this series by Ian Bell. If Bell makes it his own, then who knows what might happen?
Bell, England's supreme batting artist, looked hapless at No 6 in the series against Sri Lanka earlier this season, yet it is unthinkable that he should not be in the side. That pivotal spot may go to Ben Stokes on his home ground, although Ravi Bopara is also a contender. Bopara, however, is on borrowed time.
Cook said: "The batting order is flexible and we always have that right to change it and I think you need to be able to do that at certain times when it's glaringly obvious. You do need something special in the one-day game, especially lower down the order – X-factor or whatever you want to call it. I wouldn't heap all that pressure on Ben Stokes or whoever comes in to do that role. But you do need that ability... to hit the ball out of the park."
Graeme Swann is doubtful for England with what was described as a bug, which would mean Samit Patel filling the spinner's role. India's side will be that much-sought blend of youth and experience. Sachin Tendulkar, in his 454th ODI, and still seeking his 100th international hundred, will probably open the batting with Ajinkya Rahane, in his first.
AN Cook (capt), C Kieswetter (wkt), IJL Trott, IR Bell, EJG Morgan, BA Stokes, SR Patel, TT Bresnan, SCJ Broad, JM Anderson, JW Dernbach.
MS Dhoni (capt & wkt), SR Tendulkar, AM Rahane, RS Dravid, V Kohli, RG Sharma, SK Raina, R Ashwin, PS Kumar, RV Kumar, MM Patel.
Pitch report: Has a tinge of green and may provide some seam movement, but one-day tracks at the Emirates ICG are usually full of runs.
Umpires: B Doctrove (WI) & M Erasmus (SA)
Bright start, becoming cloudy with a chance of rain in afternoon.
Maximum temperature: 18C.
TV: Sky Sports 1, 10am-7pm. Highlights Channel 5, 7-8pm.
Odds: England 4/6. India 6/5.
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