Rain delays buy England time to ponder Pietersen's replacement

 

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The Independent Online

There were compensations for the England selectors yesterday as play was called off for the second successive day in the Third Test. They might not be grateful for it now but the abandonment shortly after lunch gave them more time to ponder one of their greater conundrums of recent times.

By Monday evening, they will have to decide who is to open the batting with Alastair Cook in the one-day team, now that Kevin Pietersen has retired from all limited-overs cricket. Nor will they necessarily have shared the public pronouncements of sympathy for Pietersen during their deliberations.

He has left them in a hole which might not be adequately filled during the one-day series against West Indies, which starts a week today.

Pietersen and the team management seemed certain that he would open until the next World Cup – but then came his decision to withdraw.

There are several options, none of which are perfect. The selectors might well return to Craig Kieswetter, who had opened in the previous 11 matches before Pietersen was convinced that his future lay at the top of the order.

But Kieswetter's drop to number six firmly indicated that they were not certain of his qualities and to restore him would almost be to admit second best. He has yet to fire for Somerset in one-day cricket this season.

But if not Kieswetter, then another dasher will have to be found to complement what are still perceived to be Cook's more stately skills. As it happens, Cook's scoring rate in runs per hundred balls in the four matches in which he opened with Pietersen – admittedly a small, but not wholly insignificant sample – was 88.98 compared to Pietersen's 84.38.

But despite his added gears, Cook may remain the kind of batsman around whom the others play. Ravi Bopara has become almost a staple member of the team after 72 ODIs and his scintillating 120 from 100 balls opening for Essex last Monday may make him a candidate. Bopara and Cook know each other as well as any pairing in English cricket, having first started together as boys throughout the Essex age-group sides.

There remains the feeling that Ian Bell, still England's most technically gifted batsman, has unfinished business in the one-day arena. Bell began his international one-day career as an opener, in Zimbabwe in Harare eight years ago, and although his last run there of 14 matches in 2008 was not a resounding success he is a much more mature player these days. Certainly the experiment with Bell as the finisher at number six last summer was a failure.

It is possible the selectors might plump for one of the young guns such as Jonny Bairstow but that would be a gamble. But they should have had plenty of time to muse. The Test match meanwhile, the first since 1964 in England whose first two days have been abandoned, should finally begin today.

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