Sure bet Pietersen jockeys for position

Fringe players must stake World Cup claims in dead series as little has changed since last showpiece
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For the past three years, England supporters have been hoping that a handful of dynamic young thrusters would burst through from county cricket and lighten up the one-day side in the manner that Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Suresh Raina, Irfan Pathan and Sri Sreesanth are currently doing for India.

Yet since England's embarrassing exit from the 2003 World Cup only Kevin Pietersen and Andrew Strauss have become fixtures in the side. During those three years, England have used more than 30 players, but the team likely to carry the hopes of a nation in the West Indies in 12 months' time will be built around eight of the players who failed to qualify from the preliminary stage of the South African tournament.

The lack of quality one-day players coming through the English system becomes clear when one looks at the list of reserves for the last World Cup. Only four of the 15 stand-by players are in India, and one of them is Matthew Maynard, England's assistant coach. Owais Shah, Vikram Solanki and Kabir Ali are the others and they, along with Matthew Prior and Gareth Batty, have the most to gain or lose in the remaining three games here.

Whether their performances in what are essentially dead matches should count for a great deal is debatable. Having moved into an unassailable 4-0 lead India are looking to rest players - Rahul Dravid is not playing in today's fourth match in Guwahati - and it will be difficult for them to play with the same intensity as when the series was alive.

Each of England's fringe players has shown glimpses of what they are capable of, but they all need to produce something special in Guwahati, Jamshedpur and Indore if they wish to remain in the World Cup plans.

Prior, who has been a specialist batsman in England's previous nine one-day matches, is the only one guaranteed his place after the thigh injury Geraint Jones sustained on Thursday. "You don't wish injuries on anyone but I have an opportunity and I am really looking forward to it," said Prior. "I enjoyed putting the gloves on in Cochin and I want to keep wicket for England. I know that my chances of playing regularly will improve if I keep wicket, and this is an opportunity I must take. But I also know I need to get a couple of big scores if I want to stake a strong claim."

It will also be interesting to see where Pietersen bats. The absence of Marcus Trescothick and Michael Vaughan tempted England to bat him at three in the fourth match at Cochin. Nasser Hussain and Dean Jones, the former Australian batsman, who are both commentating in India, welcomed the tactic. They feel that Pietersen, as England's best one-day batsman, should go in at three since it gives him the chance to bat for a long time and post a match-winning score.

I do not dispute the fact that Pietersen is the premier one-day batsman, but I think he should remain at four. Trescothick is a wonderful limited-overs batsman so it is frustrating to see him, as one of England's few match-winners, throwing his wicket away attempting to score quickly when the fielding restrictions are in place. But he is a specialist opener, and so he should open.

It would be disastrous to lose both him and Pietersen in the first 10 overs to slogs or a good ball. I believe Pietersen's ultra-positive approach means that his innings have a limited lifespan. He does not bat like a Ricky Ponting, Rahul Dravid or Sachin Tendulkar, who set out to occupy the crease for 40 to 45 overs.

Pietersen normally goes for the jugular from the moment he takes guard, and once he gets going he rarely slows down. He also has the power to hit an old, soft ball out of the ground, and I would prefer that he was there to finish the innings off in style, rather than to give it a wonderful start and then watch from the pavilion as it all falls away.

In Cochin, England separated Pietersen and Andrew Flintoff by batting Paul Collingwood at four, but we will save that for another day.