Pietersen offered a chance to sparkle

England's extended squad moved on yesterday to begin the serious work of preparing for the most arduous and least desired part of their winter tour. In this hot and dusty town today, the genesis of the world's diamond market, they will take on South Africa A in the only warm-up match before the intensive, seven match, one-day series begins on Sunday.

This is always a tricky part of any tour in which the Test series comes first. What the purists and most of the players would see as the important business is done and dusted. Mission has been accomplished. Now the teams must fulfil their obligations to the lesser form of the game, the one which they will perform before full, rousing houses in every town: it pays the piper, it does not invariably call the tune.

The main piece of housekeeping news from the England camp is that Stephen Harmison, who began the tour as a totemic fast bowler, will not feature in this match or either of the first two one-dayers. He is badly out of form and is slipping down the bowling charts from No 1 quicker than a novelty record. Yesterday he was told his swollen calf will take a week to heal.

His participation after that must be very doubtful. If it was left to Harmison he would doubtless have been on a flight home yesterday, although he recognises he needs more one-day experience. But the management are digging in their heels by refusing to let a bowler have his (unspoken) way. Of course, the paradox is that had he been fit, the Harmison of current direction would be a risky choice.

Matthew Maynard, the assistant one-day coach, offered a hint of the likely composition of the team yesterday. It might be a clever ploy to bluff the opposition but he said firmly that Kevin Pietersen will take Andrew Flintoff's position in the team at No 5. Pietersen was called up late as cover for Flintoff, who flew home yesterday for surgery on his ankle, and his inclusion would be hard on the first squad choice, Ian Bell.

It is probable that Marcus Trescothick, who will captain today's team, will also share the wicketkeeping duties with Geraint Jones, since he will have to fulfil the role in an international if Jones were to suffer mishap. Apart from Harmison, five of the Test team (definitely Michael Vaughan and Ashley Giles, who have remained in Johannesburg, and perhaps Simon Jones, Matthew Hoggard and Andrew Strauss) could be rested.

The intention of the others will be to show the coach, Duncan Fletcher, that the diamonds here are not alone in sparkling.

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