As the desert sand settled around Alastair Cook's sterling century yesterday, the attention moved sharply to his opening partner. It has never shifted far from Kevin Pietersen since a balmy day at the Oval in 2005 when he plundered Australia but there is the undoubted sense now that he is playing for his one-day career.
He has been moved to the top of the order for this series against Pakistan and will continue there in the second match tonight, a sign of desperation as much as strategy. England, as so often before, are eager to accommodate him – once they even made him captain – and though it is not solely a one-way street he continues to be slightly aloof from the rest of the squad.
On this tour, Pietersen has fulfilled no media obligations on behalf of his employers, partly because he has barely scored a run. However, that did not stop all the rest, including Ian Bell, who kept the scorers even less busy, from having to talk the talk.
There is an obvious inquisitiveness about Pietersen's elevation to opener but he has barely addressed it. Yet tomorrow morning he will travel to Dubai to attend to his duties for sponsors of his Indian Premier League team, Delhi Daredevils.
It was intended that he speak about this year's event but since he is in the middle of an England tour and he has not uttered a word – except once on behalf of one of his own sponsors – he has been advised against it. None of this would matter much but this is a player now officially and badly out of form.
He scored 67 runs in six innings in the Test series against Pakistan, as England were whitewashed, and he made a laboured 14 from 36 balls on Monday night. England went on to win by 130 runs but not before Pietersen had paled in comparison with Cook, whose 137 from 142 balls was a model of application and resolve.
Maybe Pietersen is the answer to England's quest for a booming player against the hard ball with the fields up, but it is legitimate to ask whether the promotion would have taken place had he been in form in his traditional berth at No 4.
No, it would not. There would have been no need and if another opener to accompany Cook was felt essential somebody else would have been tried. The first attempt to convert Pietersen into a bludgeoning No 2 in the World Cup last year was curtailed when he left the tournament for surgery on a hernia. It was a qualified success, with a top score of 59 in the sensational defeat to Ireland.
Tried again now because Craig Kieswetter was a little too limited to fit the bill, Pietersen has been given a wide-ranging licence. He barely used it on Monday night and by any stretch of the imagination did not respond in the intended manner.
It could all change with one vintage innings but that looks improbable. His long stride, with bat coming across front pad, has the potential to get him in as much trouble as it once extricated him from. Pakistan's spinners know how to catch him in front and first he has to read them.
Presumably, England (and Pietersen) have a time limit on the experiment. Presumably, they do not expect it to fail and it will be huge fun if he can turn matters round tomorrow with England taking an equally unlikely 2-0 lead in the series.
In general, England still need to come to terms with playing Pakistan's desert armada of spinners. Samit Patel, who acquitted himself well in the opening match, said yesterday that England had worked out a decent method against Saeed Ajmal despite his five wickets on Monday.
There remain issues about Patel's weight and fitness, with the coach, Andy Flower, having said last week that he is merely inching his way to progress."It could be quicker but I don't think it's been slow," Patel said. "There is no target, you just have to keep improving and show the attitude that I have at the moment."
There is as much riding on this series for Patel as for Pietersen. Do well and he may be going to Sri Lanka as the third spinner for the Test series.
Second ODI teams
Pakistan (possible): Misbah-ul-Haq (capt), Mohammad Hafeez, Imran Farhat, Asad Shafiq, Younis Khan, Umar Akmal (wkt), Shoaib Malik, Shahid Afridi, Umar Gul, Saeed Ajmal, Wahab Riaz.
England (possible): A N Cook (capt), K P Pietersen, I J L Trott, R S Bopara, E J G Morgan, C Kieswetter (wkt), S R Patel, S C J Broad, G P Swann, J M Anderson, S T Finn.
Umpires K Dharmasena (SL) and A Dar (Pak).
TV Sky Sports 1, HD, 10.30-19.00.
Pitch report Slow, cracked, turning, will need care. Not many sixes but fast outfield should bring rewards for precisely placed shots.
Dhoni falls one short as India and Sri Lanka tie
India captain M S Dhoni fell just short of pulling off a thrilling run chase as his side fought out a dramatic tie with Sri Lanka in the fifth match of the triangular series in Adelaide. With four needed to win off the last ball, Dhoni (58 not out) lofted it over cover but could manage only three as India finished on 236 for 9, exactly Sri Lanka's score. Sachin Tendulkar's quest for his 100th century goes on – he was out for 15.
On Friday, Ricky Ponting will lead Australia once again, against Sri Lanka in Sydney, as the man who took over from him as captain, Michael Clarke, is out with a hamstring injury.