Pietersen remains below average in Subcontinent


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The Independent Online

As soon as this tour of Sri Lanka is done next Saturday, Kevin Pietersen is off to the Indian Premier League. He is excited about the prospect of playing for Delhi Daredevils, less so about returning to England early from the tournament to play in a County Championship match which also coincides with his son's birthday.

Pietersen has become a staunch advocate of the IPL and all things Indian in the last two years. He likes the glitz and the big-time feel of the event, though he will concede that the cricket can be decidedly small-time.

The money doubtless helps and if Delhi do reach the later stages he will be irritated at missing out to fulfil the obligations of his other employers, the England and Wales Cricket Board, who insist on his playing a first-class match before the first home Test of the summer starts on 17 May.

However, before all that there is the matter of the Second Test against Sri Lanka with England staring down the barrel of a fifth consecutive defeat. Pietersen is eager to leave some kind of imprint on this England winter in the five-day game.

In the travails that have afflicted England's captain, Andrew Strauss, a miserable few weeks for Pietersen have tended to be overlooked. True, they have been offset by two cracking, if overdue, one-day international hundreds in the United Arab Emirates but nobody should underestimate what Pietersen wants to be remembered by.

A couple of days before the First Test in Galle he made himself a hostage to fortune by emphasising that whatever it was he had lost in his batting he had rediscovered. He went so far as to say that it all came back in a trice during a training session with the England spin bowling coach Mustaq Ahmed.

"It took a little bit of time," he said, "but as soon as it clicked... I remember doing one session with Mushy, I looked at him, he looked at me and it was like we're back. It is so weird." It was so weird in Galle last week that he pushed at a wide one first ball after lunch in the first innings to be bowled and came dashing down the pitch in the second to clip a catch to mid-wicket. His scores were 3 and 30.

Pietersen has had a longer run of Test innings without a fifty, 10 compared to the present eight, but that too coincided with a tour to Sri Lanka, four years ago. For all his showman's embrace of this part of the world his record does not bear close scrutiny.

As a young Test batsman, albeit one who was just off the back of that blazing 158 at the climax of the 2005 Ashes, he scored a vigilant hundred in Faisalabad and, in his short period as captain, another in Chandigarh. But he has never cracked the Subcontinent and Pietersen above all others will be aware of this.

His overall Test average remains around 48 but in the Subcontinent it is 33 and if two Tests he played in Bangladesh are removed it is 28. Maybe it is the booming front foot and hard hands on slow turners. Ricky Ponting, the great Australian, suffered similarly. An average of 54 overall comes down to below 40 and it took him until his fourth tour of India to make a century.

With one eye on the IPL but one on his record and England's winter failings, Pietersen has much to play for this week. Victory would not be exactly full compensation for a four-match losing sequence but it would ensure that England kept their No 1 world ranking, albeit with the crown slightly tarnished.

Since Stuart Broad has gone home with a calf strain, which may rule him out of the IPL, there is a seam bowling place available. The choice lies between Steve Finn and Tim Bresnan, although the selectors may decide to change their strategy by dropping Monty Panesar and picking both – which would be slightly perverse as the batsmen have made all the mistakes going.