Kevin Pietersen will become England's 28th one-day captain when he walks out for the toss with Daniel Vettori before tomorrow's series deciding NatWest encounter against New Zealand at Lord's. Pietersen's promotion is temporary, coming in the wake of Paul Collingwood's four match ban for his side's slow over rate during Wednesday's controversial and ill-tempered match at The Oval, but it adds an extra unpredictable dimension to what has been a fascinating series.
Collingwood is the first England player to be handed a ban since the International Cricket Council introduced a code of conduct in 1992. The sentence may seem a trifle harsh but it is the second time in a year that England's one-day side have failed to bowl their overs in the required time. For the previous offence, against India at Bristol in August 2007, Collingwood received a fine but two violations in 12 months moves a captain into automatic ban territory.
Collingwood will miss tomorrow's vital one-dayer against the Black Caps, a one-day match against Scotland on 18 August, a Twenty20 international against South Africa on 22 August and the first NatWest Series ODI against the same opposition on 22 August.
But it could have been worse for the 32 year-old. The ICC's match referee, Javagal Srinath, had the remit to ban Collingwood from the Lord's Test against South Africa on 10 July. Such action could have had dire consequences on his Test career. Collingwood was in awful form during the three-Test series against New Zealand and his absence would have made it easy for the selectors to slide Andrew Flintoff back in to the team. Now Collingwood is likely to be given another chance to prove his worth.
"Obviously I'm disappointed to be missing England's next four limited-overs matches but as a team we are aware of the rules and regulations in place and it's my responsibility to bear the penalties for such a breach," he said. "The England captaincy means the world to me and already I'm looking forward to leading the one-day team against South Africa in August. I wish my team-mates all the best for Saturday's final ODI as we aim to finish the series with a win."
Pietersen is an interesting choice by the selectors, and the fact that he has only been asked to captain in Saturday's match suggests they are not totally convinced by his abilities to lead. Andrew Strauss, who captained England so well in 2006 when Michael Vaughan and Flintoff were injured, must have been considered but his selection would have caused the team to change their game plan at the top of the order.
Wednesday's controversial run out has caused emotion between England and New Zealand to run high and Strauss would have brought a calmer and more rounded mind to the dressing room. Pietersen is a more emotional animal but he will love the stage and the challenge of leading his side in such an important match, even though the Black Caps will look to exploit his inexperience.
"I'm humbled to have been handed the England one-day captaincy in Paul Collingwood's absence," said Pietersen. "Captaining England has been a dream of mine but I also understand that I'm assuming the role in Paul's absence as he is the captain and leader of the one-day side. To be asked to captain your country is the ultimate honour in sport and I feel privileged and proud to have been asked to lead the side on Saturday.
"I am excited by the challenge of captaining such a young and talented side. We can't win this NatWest Series but I, like the rest of the dressing room, expect an outstanding England performance to finish the series on a high."
The decision increases the chances of Pietersen and Graeme Smith, two South African born cricketers, captaining the Twenty20 international between England and South Africa in August. It is a mouth-watering prospect because the pair do not get on.
South Africa arrived in England on Wednesday and are acclimatising in Taunton, and Smith is unsure how he would have reacted to the collision between Ryan Sidebottom and Grant Elliott.
"It is a difficult one and you don't know until you are placed in that position," he admitted. "But in the last year and following the [ill-tempered] series between Australia and India there has been a lot of talk about the responsibility of captains to be aware of the spirit of the game. I don't want to say where we would have gone, but I would like to think we would have gone with the spirit of cricket."
Jeremy Snape, the former Leicestershire and England one-day cricketer, will attempt to help South Africa defeat England this summer. Snape, who worked for England at the 2007 World Cup as a psychologist, will be employed by South Africa on the tour as a performance coach.