Pietersen thrust into Ashes as bell tolls for Thorpe

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The Independent Online

Yesterday, when David Graveney, England's chairman of selectors, announced that Pietersen would be playing against Australia in the first Test at Lord's, the dream became reality. Graveney described the decision to omit Graham Thorpe as the toughest he has had to make during his time as a selector, but the Surrey veteran's loss gives Pietersen the biggest stage on which to show his undoubted talent.

Since scoring three one-day hundreds for England in South Africa in February the desire of cricket fans to see the 24-year-old play against the Australians has become irrepressible. Self-belief and ambition are abundant in Pietersen, but unlike many cocky youths he has backed up the strut, the talk and the outlandish hairdo with performances of the highest calibre.

The destructive right-hander will find it extremely difficult to treat Ricky Ponting's side in the same manner as he did his once fellow countrymen. And it would be unfair to expect him to walk out on Thursday and smash the likes of Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne all around the home of cricket. But a blistering unbeaten 91 at Bristol, an accomplished 74 at The Oval on Tuesday and a one-day batting average of 87 indicate that Australia will not have things all their own way while this precocious young man is at the crease.

"We have no doubts that he will be able to transfer his one-day form into the Test arena," Graveney said. "It was a decision between Thorpe, a man of vast experience with an extensive Test record, and Pietersen, a young, up-and-coming player. We went with Kevin because of what we have seen, not only in South Africa last winter, but also against Australia this summer. We firmly believe that he has the potential to become a world-class player in England's middle order and a match-winner."

Pietersen will bat at five and is set to be the only change to the side which twice thrashed Bangladesh in May and June. Chris Tremlett is the 12th squad member but will play only in the case of injuries.

"I am delighted," Pietersen said. "I am the happiest guy in the UK. When David phoned me on Wednesday night to tell me the news I had goose bumps. It was a very special feeling. I felt I had ticked the right boxes and obviously I have.

"I think Tuesday's innings at The Oval was important. I put myself under a lot of pressure the night before the game. I knew I needed to perform and for the first time playing for England I was really, really nervous."

"Graham Thorpe's shoes are big shoes to fill. He has been, and still could be, a great cricketer for England but this is an opportunity for me to try and cement my place in the Test side and reward those who have selected me. I will try and keep things simple. I will not blow things out of proportion. The only real difference between this game and the others I have played is the colour of the ball."

Pietersen may not be prepared to write Thorpe off just yet, but it is hard to see the 35-year-old adding to his 100 caps. England are unlikely to dispense with Pietersen or Ian Bell for that matter after one or two poor performances. Thankfully, this is no longer their style.

England, as a precaution, have asked Pietersen, who strained his groin at The Oval, to sit out of today's Cheltenham & Gloucester quarter-final. His failure to overcome this problem looks like Thorpe's only way back.

Graveney was keen to stress that Thorpe was fit for selection, but an ongoing back problem will not have helped his case. He failed to play for Surrey in Wednesday's Totesport match at Headingley, for fear that the four-hour coach journey would have aggravated his back, and this is not the action of a man who is confident of getting through a five-day Test.

Thorpe brought many qualities to England but it was his ability to score runs in difficult circumstances, that will be missed most. Since he returned to Test action in 2003 he has been one of England's best players. Thorpe believes the hundred in his comeback match against South Africa at The Oval in 2003 was his finest, but the century he scored on a dodgy pitch at the Kensington Oval in Barbados 15 months ago was brilliant. It took England to a memorable victory, and allowed them to secure their first series win in the West Indies since 1968.

Ashes squad

M P Vaughan Yorkshire (capt), age 30, caps 57

M E Trescothick Somerset, 29, 61

A J Strauss Middlesex, 28, 14

I R Bell Warwickshire, 23, 3

K P Pietersen Hampshire, 25, 0

A Flintoff Lancashire, 27, 47

G O Jones Kent (wkt), 29, 15

A F Giles Warwickshire, 32, 45

S P Jones Glamorgan, 26, 14

M J Hoggard Yorkshire, 28, 40

S J Harmison Durham, 26, 30

C T Tremlett Hampshire, 23, 0