Pietersen leads the pretenders but Strauss and Key have a case

Heavy hitter has the energy and personality to succeed as captain, but it would still represent a gamble, writes Angus Fraser
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The Independent Online

Kevin Pietersen

On the basis that England want to have one captain to lead them in Test, one-day and Twenty20 cricket Pietersen becomes the strong favourite. He is one of the few players guaranteed a place in each of the three teams.

Picking Pietersen would be a gamble. The 28-year-old is the most high-profile and quotable member of the team and he has a good cricket brain. In recent times Pietersen has become part of England's inner sanctum and was regularly seen in deep conversation with the previous Test and one-day captains, Michael Vaughan and Paul Collingwood.

In the absence of Collingwood, Pietersen captained England once during the recent one-day series against New Zealand, and he would love to do the job on a permanent basis. He is extremely ambitious and would enjoy the even higher profile it gave him. The extra responsibility could bring more out of him, but it could have a detrimental effect too. Pietersen was widely criticised for the shot he played on 94 at Edgbaston, when he was caught at long on attempting to reach his hundred with a six. The captaincy may stop him batting in such an adventurous way but it would come at a price; Pietersen's Test batting average was at its highest when his strike rate was. He is at his best when he is being positive.

It would, however, be hard for him to castigate team-mates for batting in such a manner when he does so himself. There is also the matter of his Englishness. At a time when the nationality of an individual has never been so blurred it may seem frivolous to talk about such a subject, but it is relevant. Pietersen may wear a three lions and crown tattoo on his biceps but in an interview earlier this year he spoke of English people as "you".

Men of South African decent – Tony Greig and Allan Lamb – have captained England, but their reasons for moving here were not as calculated. Pietersen's decision to come to England was career-driven. It was the place where he could capitalise most on his amazing talent.

It is this drive that has made him the player he is, but such a single-minded attitude has not endeared him to all of his team-mates. Pietersen joined Hampshire in 2004 with few of his former colleagues at Nottinghamshire having a good word for him, and there are several players in the England dressing room who tolerate rather than warm to him. Pietersen has the energy and personality to do the job, and he could prove an inspired selection. It could, however, go the other way.

Andrew Strauss

Strauss would be the safest option for England to take. The 31-year-old captained England in 2006 when Vaughan and Andrew Flintoff were injured, and did a very good job, taking the side to a 2-0 series victory over Pakistan. He should have captained England on the 2006-07 Ashes tour too, but Flintoff was controversially given the job. Strauss is a diligent and respected member of the England team and his appointment would not disrupt the set-up currently in place. One-day cricket is the big problem for him.

Strauss has not played it for England since the 2007 World Cup, although he was added to the squad in the recent series against New Zealand. There are some who question his place in the Test team too.

Robert Key

Key's credibility has risen on the back of Kent's success in the Twenty20 Cup, a tournament they won in 2007 and lost in the final to Middlesex a week ago.

The 29-year-old is a very popular figure with old-fashioned principles. Key is a captain's captain, in that there is little fuss about the way he does the job. He has excellent man-management skills and is a good tactician on the field. He has shown he can play at the highest level too, scoring 221 against the West Indies at Lord's in 2004. Recent performances in Twenty20 cricket have shown that he can adapt to the limited-over game too. It would be expecting a lot to ask a man to re-establish himself in international cricket and captain a side at the same time.

Alastair Cook

Cook was tipped as a future England captain at a very early stage of his international career. He is bright, intelligent, organised and a very good player. The image of the 23-year-old is impeccable too. South Africa's Graeme Smith was handed the captaincy at 22, but Cook does not appear mature enough yet. He does not appear to have pushed for greater responsibility and seems content to get on with his cricket quietly, worrying solely about his own game. His chance will probably come but now does not appear to be the right time.

Andrew Flintoff

Flintoff's time in charge could hardly be described as a success and earlier this year he stated: "It was not something I am looking to do." England lost 5-0 to Australia under his leadership before somehow winning a one-day tournament.

The 30-year-old is the unlikeliest of the candidates but he remains a possibility. If the selectors came knocking at his door he would undoubtedly consider it. "Fredalo", however, will take some getting over and his selection would receive criticism in many quarters.