With characteristic timing, Kevin Pietersen has dashed once more into the limelight. He has always found it impossible to stay away from its magnetic spell for long, and with the Test series against South Africa only days away, he has leapt on to centre stage to express his personal dilemma and divert the attention of England's management at a crucial moment.
Pietersen, who retired from limited-overs cricket last month, now appears to want to return, if only because he is extremely keen to play in the World Twenty20 tournament in Sri Lanka in September. Without any need for it to do so, his name will therefore have formed a substantial part of the selectors' discussions as they met to choose the squad for the First Test, which starts at The Oval on Thursday, and the 30 names on an initial list for the World Twenty20 which must be supplied to the ICC this week.
Until a few days ago, Pietersen was out of the reckoning. But he and his representatives have been making overtures to England to see if some deal can be cut. After making a double century for Surrey at Guildford on Friday, he gave his desires an airing.
Originally, Pietersen withdrew from all limited-overs cricket as the selectors refused to grant his request to play only T20 and not one-day internationals. According to the terms of the central contract he signed only last September, he must be available for all England cricket.
He was reported to have said at Guildford: "I've said before that, if the schedule was right, if they could sort my schedule out, I would love to play for another three or four years in all forms of cricket. But the schedule at the moment is a nightmare."
That seemed to suggest if England reduced their commitments for him, he might come charging to their rescue. Of course he is negotiating from a position of strength after his smashing double hundred for Surrey. But England appear to be resolute. They have said repeatedly that if Pietersen were allowed to pick and choose his formats others may follow. Their worst fear may be that if they find a way to accommodate him this summer, playing in the one- dayers against South Africa, for instance, and then he calls it a day again after the World Twenty20.
Pietersen will, of course, take his place in a squad of 13 today for the Test match, the most eagerly awaited cricket of the summer, though there must be times when the selectors think he is too high-maintenance. Their tough decisions for the cadre, being announced today, were for the sixth batting spot, likely to go to Ravi Bopara ahead of Jonny Bairstow, and the third seam bowler, for which Steve Finn has abundant support ahead of Tim Bresnan.
Both are likely to be included along with Graham Onions, but Bresnan will be hard to omit on Thursday. Although the ICC team rankings have undergone their annual revision, the focus for this series is clear. If England win they stay top, if South Africa win they go top.
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