Shane Warne yesterday derided England for allowing Kevin Pietersen to retire from one-day cricket. In a sweeping condemnation he said they should have dropped their egos and accommodated his desire to play Twenty20 as well as Test cricket.
This was a considerable reversal of normal practice where it is Pietersen's ego that is believed to be an obstruction. He withdrew from all limited-overs cricket earlier this month when the England and Wales Cricket Board decreed it was not possible for him to withdraw only from the 50-over one-day international version.
Warne, speaking ahead of the one-day series between England and Australia which begins on Friday, said: "Any team that hasn't got Kevin Pietersen is significantly weaker. He's a match-winner so that's a big loss. It staggers me and I'm very surprised that the ECB didn't try and negotiate that better, drop their egos and say, OK we understand this, we want to keep our best players playing all the time."
Warne's comments are unlikely to embarrass England whose coach, Andy Flower, was anxious not to set a precedent. Flower feared that if Pietersen had his way other players may follow. And, of course, Pietersen and Warne are chums.
As a pundit and Sky commentator, Warne has little direct influence on events but he was echoing the view of many who feel that Pietersen's absence will severely undermine England's defence of their World T20 title in September. "So I think it's just a bit too much ego for my liking from the ECB," he said. "Who wouldn't want Kevin Pietersen in your side? He's a match winner and he puts bums on seats because people love watching him play. He rubs off on the rest of the players. So to me it's a huge loss.
"People might give up more one-day cricket or they might give up Twenty20. Michael Clarke's given up Twenty20 in Australia because he can't play all three forms at that level, but you can't imagine Australia dropping him and saying don't worry about one-day cricket, just stick to Tests."
With or without Pietersen, Warne thinks that England are favourites for the series this summer. "They have a fantastic bowling line-up and the way they're playing in the conditions it's hard for them not to be favourites," he said. "England have won six series at home against all kinds of opposition and while Australia might still be ranked No 1 in the world it's hard to see past England."
That might have been an Aussie bluff, of course, but nor does Warne expect it to have any bearing on the battle for the biggest prize next year. "It's a nice little appetiser, it gets everyone talking about the ifs and buts and what-ifs between now and when the Ashes start. Any time you can get an advantage on the opposition that's great but his situation doesn't have any significance to the Ashes that's for sure." But England will be favourites for that contest too.
Shane Warne is commentating for Sky Sports during an unrivalled summer of live cricket available on TV, online, mobile and tablet devices via Sky Go.
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