The England cricket hierarchy could find out as soon as Thursday whether Kevin Pietersen intends to play in the Indian Premier League this year and, in doing so, risk his Test future, with the batsman likely to be retained by Delhi Daredevils.
The controversial batsman is at odds with coach Andy Flower and his international future has been thrown into doubt since England's humiliating 5-0 Ashes defeat. In order to be sure of his Test place, early-season county runs, rather than a quick buck in India, would strengthen Pietersen's case.
Pietersen's enthusiasm for the IPL has long been an issue between him and the England and Wales Cricket Board, and Flower this week described the forthcoming IPL as a "tricky subject". Far more will be clear on Thursday, when IPL teams have to submit their list of up to five retained players. Pietersen played for Delhi in 2012 and even spent a few days with the side last year despite missing the season with injury.
It is very likely that Pietersen will be on the retained list, according to two sources close to the franchise, one telling The Independent he would be "very, very surprised" if Pietersen was not. Pietersen is well known to have enjoyed playing in the IPL and is well thought of in Delhi. The Australia batsman David Warner is also likely to be retained, although Indian legend Virender Sehwag may not be. The decision will be in the hands of incoming coach Gary Kirsten. Even if Pietersen is not on the retained list tomorrow he could still be in the pool for the auction on Wednesday 12 February.
Playing in the IPL is not incompatible with playing for England this year. The new central contracts allow participation up until 13 May – three weeks into the competition, at which point they will have to return for the start of the one-day international series against Sri Lanka on 22 May.
Some England players, though, such as Stuart Broad and Ben Stokes, are likely to turn down IPL deals to play county cricket and earn their Test places for the summer. Even if Pietersen returned on 13 May, he would miss Surrey's first five County Championship matches and would have played no first-class cricket before the first ODI on 22 May.
After the failings of the winter, Pietersen signing for Delhi would be a statement of intent. Flower was asked about his players' IPL commitments this week and replied: "It is something that we have to talk about, but that is a tricky subject, isn't it?"
Pietersen did, however, insist that he wanted to continue his England career through to winning back the Ashes next year. "I am shocked and saddened by reports concerning my future with England," he tweeted. "I wish to repeat my strong desire to continue playing for my country, and to help us regain the Ashes in 2015." Pietersen went on to criticise reports of Flower's disappointment with his conduct as "lies".
Flower, meanwhile, denied that he had issued an ultimatum that England must choose between him and Pietersen. "Neither I nor the wider ECB leadership group have made any decisions as to the future involvement of any individuals..." Flower said. "The reports that I have issued an ultimatum... to the ECB are totally inaccurate."