Eoin Morgan toes party line over Kevin Pietersen saga
The limited-overs roadshow has arrived on the South Coast. It is still at the beginning of its journey, with London and several points north still to come before it finally ends on 12 September, five days before England embark on the defence of their World Twenty20 title.
Travelling circuses have never gone so far in so short a time. It will be impossible to accuse England of arriving in Sri Lanka as short of cricket, though it would be handy for all concerned if this series of matches could actually start. The weather forecast for Southampton today gives cause for optimism that the second of five one-day internationals against South Africa will go ahead as planned. Three T20 matches will follow.
It would be additionally handy if the proceedings could be conducted without the shadow of Kevin Pietersen hanging over them, though the stopping of the incessant rain this wet summer is much more likely. The dropped, troubled star remains a topic of fascination both inside and outside the dressing room.
Official comment on his position has all but ceased with both parties, Pietersen and his representatives and the England and Wales Cricket Board, anxious not to carry on discussions in public, where too much dirty laundry has already been washed. However, it is impossible for any England players to avoid questions on the affair.
Eoin Morgan took his turn at damage limitation at the Ageas Bowl yesterday, making the eminently valid point that England had done rather well in short-form cricket without him, winning all their six matches played at home this season.
"I think we've played fantastic cricket," he said. "The guys who have come in and replaced him have done particularly well. Whoever has stepped up has done really, really well. That's been important to the winning run we've had, particularly against a top side like Australia."
Diplomacy is now spreading through the team quicker than at a G20 summit and Morgan, who is rarely shy of offering an honest opinion, toed a strict party line, which amounts to the fact that Pietersen is a splendid but not indispensable batsman, with much work to do if everything is to be hunky-dory again.
"I think Kevin is a world-class cricketer and any team around the world would want him in their side, but there are issues surrounding him at the moment and it will take time to resolve them," he said. "Personally, I didn't find him difficult but I've not been around the Test team a lot.
"Obviously, the quicker that happens the better. I think that it is hugely important because the amount of time we spend together is huge. We spend more time together than with our families, particularly on tour. It is a huge factor and it has been for the last number of years – successful years – we've had as the England cricket team."
England will presumably go with the team selected for the rain-curtailed match at Cardiff last Friday when only 33 balls were possible. They picked two seam-bowling all-rounders, Tim Bresnan and Chris Woakes, and one spinner, Graeme Swann.
This is a measure of the advances Woakes has made as a batsman and may make it more difficult for Samit Patel to force his way into the side. Patel, however, probably remains a more reliable bet at No 7 in the order and, with Craig Kieswetter still coming to terms with what is required at No 6, the importance of England's top five has been increased.
With the series now effectively reduced to four matches, today's victors will be much more relaxed on the journey north.
Game two: The teams
Teams: England (possible) A N Cook (capt), I R Bell, I J L Trott, E J G Morgan, R S Bopara, C Kieswetter (wk), C R Woakes, T T Bresnan, G P Swann, J M Anderson, S T Finn.
South Africa (possible) A B de Villiers (capt & wk), G C Smith, H M Amla, F du Plessis, J P Duminy, R McLaren, D Elgar, R J Peterson, M Morkel, L L Tsotsobe, W D Parnell.
Umpires S J A Taufel (Aus) and R Bailey (Eng).
Weather Potential showers this morning, partly cloudy this afternoon. Maximum temperature: 17C.
TV Sky Sports 1, 12.30-22.00
Odds England Evens South Africa 4-5.
The five-match series is tied at 0-0 after Friday's opener was washed out
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