Pietersen's form poses question for England

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The Independent Online

Many observers may feel England's entire batting line-up should be replaced following their abject performances in the county championship so far. But it is the names of Ian Bell, Robert Key and Kevin Pietersen that will cause the greatest discussion among England's selectors before the first Test against Bangladesh.

Many observers may feel England's entire batting line-up should be replaced following their abject performances in the county championship so far. But it is the names of Ian Bell, Robert Key and Kevin Pietersen that will cause the greatest discussion among England's selectors before the first Test against Bangladesh.

Their final choice, which is announced tomorrow morning, should have little effect on the result at Lord's - most county sides would be too strong for the tourists - but the team picked for 26 May should be the one they would hope to field against Australia on 21 July.

When Pietersen returned from England's one-day series in South Africa with three centuries, many felt he should be an automatic Test choice.

But the 24-year-old's inconsistent form has shown England supporters that they should not look on him as a saviour. Pietersen's majestic 125 for Hampshire yesterday increased pressure on the selectors to pick him, but they should resist because they would have to make significant changes to England's batting order to fit him in.Michael Vaughan and Graham Thorpe said they would move one place up so that Pietersen could bat at No 5, but this would be unwise.

Andrew Strauss's remarkable debut led to Vaughan exchanging his role as an opener for the middle order last season, and it is time the England captain remained in one position for a while. If Vaughan were to move, the only place he should consider is Marcus Trescothick's. Yet this is unlikely after the opener's successful tour of South Africa.

Should Thorpe's back complaint disappear and Andrew Flintoff's recovery from a foot operation continue, three players will challenge for one place. And because England would not consider Pietersen at No 3 against Australia he should only play if Thorpe is unfit.

The choice between Key and Bell is difficult. Key is the incumbent No 3, but in 15 Tests he is yet to show the consistency required. High-quality bowling brings out the best in the 26-year-old, but he has a habit of letting his concentration drop against part-time trundlers. This happened twice on England's last tour of Australia, and it will be preyed on by Ricky Ponting.

Criticism like this cannot be aimed at Bell, but the 23-year-old's stylish 70 on his Test debut failed to earn him a place on the tour of South Africa, where Key's shortcomings were exposed. Bell may be slightly less flamboyant but he has a tighter technique.

The poor form of England's batters has been good news for headline writers, but it is not a major concern. Each would have liked a significant score but it is almost 10 weeks until Vaughan's side face Australia.

In contrast, the fitness of England's bowlers will be of concern. A lower-back injury has kept Simon Jones out of action for a fortnight and a hip strain has limited Ashley Giles's involvement. Flintoff has just started bowling again.

But Stephen Harmison and Giles have taken 51 wickets between them and Matthew Hoggard has had plenty of overs. The centrally-contracted James Anderson should be left to play for Lancashire. The fast bowler will gain nothing from practising in the nets and carrying the drinks.

This leaves one bowling place. Liam Plunkett has showed encouraging form, as have Chris Tremlett and Alan Richardson, but Gloucestershire's Jon Lewis is ahead.

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