England's selectors might have expected an easy time of it this summer. In which case, they reckoned without the continuing Kevin Pietersen soap opera.
Their chosen teams are winning in all formats and doing it with some style. The issues before them for the most important assignment of the season, the imminent Test series against South Africa, appeared to be rather welcome and straightforward – whether to tweak one batting and one bowling spot.
And then along came Kev. Having announced his retirement from international limited-overs cricket to general regret it now seems that he may want to reconsider. It is as if he cannot bear to be out of the spotlight.
Instead of spending their deliberations on whether Ravi Bopara has done enough to replace Jonny Bairstow (or whether Bairstow has not done enough to keep his place) and on the merits of Steve Finn compared to Tim Bresnan, they have been diverted.
Pietersen had dropped several hints. It is unlikely that he has missed the England one-day dressing room so much that he desires an immediate return, but he is so desperate to play in the World Twenty20 in Sri Lanka in September that he may be prepared to compromise. He feels his case has been buttressed by the support of some illustrious figures who have said that England got it wrong and should have allowed Pietersen to drop out of one-day internationals and continue playing Tests and T20s.
The national selector, Geoff Miller, made it clear yesterday that their position was unchanged. Pietersen would not be considered for T20 while being unavailable for ODIs.
"I have had no discussions with Kevin or his agents about his return to ODIs," said Miller. "I can't comment on whether he will be in the squad for the World Twenty20 but our position hasn't altered and won't be altering."
But Pietersen may have been speaking to England's managing director, Hugh Morris. The undoubted fascination with what he is up to extends into the dressing room. When Pietersen gave a newspaper interview this week, the players were virtually falling over themselves to see what he had to say.
With a 4-0 win against Australia in the bag, the one-day team led by Alastair Cook may not be missing Pietersen as he might have expected or others feared. The T20 XI may be a different matter but the constant will he/won't he is wearing.
The composition of the starting XI will not be fully clear when a squad of 13 is announced tomorrow. It will contain both Finn and Bresnan with Graham Onions, who was more impressive than Finn when they both played in England's most recent Test, another possibility.
If England were to select seven batsmen, four seamers, a spinner and a wicketkeeper that might cloud the issue of the final XI further – with all of Bairstow, Bopara, Bresnan and Finn included.
The probability is that Bairstow will be sent back to Yorkshire to regroup. Obviously talented, he did not quite settle to the demands of Test cricket.
If England still have a few injury doubts regarding Bresnan and Graeme Swann, who both have sore elbows, they are nothing compared to South Africa's woes.
Having lost their wicketkeeper, Mark Boucher, to a lacerated eyeball caused by a flying bail earlier this week, it was announced yesterday that the 21-year-old fast bowler Marchant de Lange has a stress fracture in the lower back and will go home.
De Lange would probably not have featured in the first choice XI this summer but he has already shown his vast potential, taking 7 for 81 in his maiden Test against Sri Lanka in Durban late last year.
For first Test against South Africa, starting on Thursday at The Oval:
A J Strauss (capt) 35 97
J M Anderson 29 70
R S Bopara 27 12
I R Bell 30 77
T T Bresnan 27 14
S C J Broad 26 47
A N Cook 27 80
S T Finn 23 14
G Onions 29 9
K P Pietersen 32 86
M J Prior (wkt) 30 55
G P Swann 33 44
I J L Trott 31 31Reuse content