Kevin Pietersen saga: Chris Gayle offers untimely reminder of absent friend

 

Barbados

Perhaps one day soon the new era can begin properly. The sheet will be truly clean, as if it has just been twice through the washing machine. But  not yet.

For now the dirty linen is still being paraded in public. Just when it seems that the Kevin Pietersen issue as well as the player’s international career have been finally laid to rest, his name re-emerges. He will haunt England for some time yet.

The latest to speak his name yesterday was his erstwhile friend and foe, Chris Gayle, the effervescent West Indies opening batsman. Gayle doubtless provoked anger at the England and Wales Cricket Board, who sacked Pietersen last month, by saying: “I’m disappointed in the manner he bowed out of international cricket. It was disrespectful but I don’t know what happened behind closed doors.

“For such a big player to  go out like that who has made an impact around the world, it was really sad to see. You want to give a top player the chance to retire and walk away from the game regardless of what is happening. It is disrespectful.”

England may see it as a minor interference in their affairs of state but it is probably an unwanted distraction for a team desperately trying to forget the past and prepare for the World Twenty20 without their best player. They continue this process in earnest tomorrow with the first of three Twenty20 matches against West Indies, for whom Gayle is returning after injury.

Wherever they go, Pietersen unfortunately will not be far behind. He continues a mischievous campaign on Twitter and when England travel to Bangladesh in a few days for the World Twenty20 it would not be entirely surprising if he was in town to cover the tournament for  television.

That would serve only as a constant reminder that they are playing in a major tournament without potentially their best player. England will be aware that there is only one certain way out of it, which is to win.

They made a handy start by clinching the one-day series 2-1 earlier this week and it would be more than useful if they could go to Bangladesh by winning at least two of the three matches here over the next five days. Some reconfiguring of their team will be necessary after Joe Root’s departure from the tour – and in all probability the World Twenty20 – with a broken thumb.

One of the first matters on which they must decide is what to do with Ian Bell. He was called up as cover initially for Eoin Morgan and Alex Hales when they sustained minor injuries in Antigua last week. Both have now recovered but Root’s departure opens up a place not only here but in Bangladesh.

It is abundantly clear that the team coach, Ashley Giles, is a huge fan (and former playing colleague) of Bell. There is a feeling that he would like him in the team for his experience and a cricketing wisdom that should not be under-rated. However, picking Bell when he is not, yet, officially in the party would seem to contradict the original selection. Bell, bizarrely, has not played a T20 match of any type since the most recent of his seven appearances for England in 2011.

The opening pair of Hales and Michael Lumb will probably be reunited, though they do not seem like a combination to spearhead a campaign in which England can regain the title they won in 2010. There is a strong case for asking Morgan, the star batsman, to go in at three, though England will probably resist that.

Moeen Ali, who has started his international career with some confidence, Luke Wright and Bell are in contention with Morgan likely to continue at five. Given the sort of pitches with which England will be confronted in Bangladesh, there will be a temptation to field two spinners in addition to Ali. Local conditions, however, might dictate another seamer.

That would give an opportunity for Chris Jordan to perform at the place where he spent many happy times as a child. Jordan was born and raised in Barbados before he was scouted by Dulwich College and offered a scholarship there. He played in the first match at Kensington Oval after it was refurbished for the 2007 World Cup but said yesterday that he has no regrets about opting to play for England. Should he play he might receive a mixed welcome.

Gayle’s return provides a significant lift in West Indies spirits. He had a lean year in 2013 as he flew across the world in pursuit of T20 riches but he has had three months off and sounded ready for the fray again yesterday.

There are other big hitters but Gayle is the key. For England to win they must defy the odds. The road to Chittagong starts here.

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