World Twenty20: England travel into unknown with Kevin Pietersen still in shadows
Inept batting display highlighted how much KP's absence harms chances of title defence
Several questions dogged England's World Twenty20 campaign yesterday but one mattered above all. Has Kevin Pietersen brought his kit?
The exiled batsman is in Sri Lanka as a television pundit for this competition but it was patently obvious after England's wretched exhibition against India on Sunday – which looked no better in the hot, steamy blight of a Colombo day – that a return to the dressing room would be desirable if the team are to have the remotest prospect of retaining their title.
They have three days before resuming duties in the Super Eight stage for which, gratefully, they had already qualified before being vanquished out of sight by 90 runs in their second group match. The pitches at the new Pallekele ground, where no England side has previously ventured, are reported to be faster and more seamer friendly.
That should suit England with three more matches to play in an attempt to make the semi-finals. But in the two ties played at the ground so far there have been runs aplenty, with first-innings scores of 191 for 3 and 177 for 6.
Nor has pace dominated by any stretch. There have been 42 overs of seam bowling conceding 8.76 runs an over and taking 15 wickets at 24.55. The nine wickets of spin from 38 overs have cost more at 31.55 but yielded fewer runs, at 7.47.
England chose to stay in Colombo yesterday rather than make the 72-mile, four-hour journey up into the hills of Kandy where all their Super Eight matches take place, starting on Thursday against West Indies. New Zealand and Sri Lanka follow on Saturday and Monday.
They split into two groups for the session but perhaps the most important part came between when the players sat in a large circle and listened to their coaches. No doubt there was plenty to say but it did not need a lip-reading expert to know there was plenty along the lines of: "Cut out the cross-batted shots."
That was what caused England's downfall on Sunday with their entire middle order from four to seven succumbing to swipes across the line. The two most vaunted young guns, Jonny Bairstow and Jos Buttler, looked as though they were trying to scythe their way through the Sri Lankan jungle, perhaps anticipating the journey to Kandy, rather than read the spin. They ain't seen nothin' yet. Wait until they come up against Saeed Ajmal, if it should get that far.
Craig Kieswetter, the top scorer against India with 35, said: "We are disappointed, we felt we let ourselves down in all three divisions and the standards we set ourselves we didn't meet. We didn't play the spin as well as we have done in the past, we went with too many cross-batted shots and paid the price for that. Straight was the option to go."
He could say that again, though it was mystifying to be told that England had played spin well in the past in these parts. A year ago in India they were beaten 5-0 in one-day internationals. They managed to win the solitary T20 but a chap called Pietersen made 53.
There is no chance whatever of Pietersen being called up for this tournament, even if he had brought his cricket coffin. But the poor quality of the batting performance made his continued absence stand out even more noticeably.
With official information still at zero, the informed speculation is that Pietersen and the England and Wales Cricket Board are closer to an agreement which would enable him to play for England again. The feeling is that the ECB's chief executive, David Collier, and the England team managing director, Hugh Morris, have not travelled here for peace talks only to go through the motions.
Pietersen has been in chipper form during his pundit stints on ESPNStar and those who have sat on the panel with him have remarked on how much they have enjoyed his company. He will not exactly have enjoyed England's batting on Sunday but he will be aware how it made him look.
So emphatic was the defeat, so coarse the batting, that it seems doubtful that England can make up lost ground. Their bowling, fielding and team selection were not up to scratch either. To leave out Samit Patel, a spinner himself, albeit not full-time, and a handy player of it, was misguided.
They are clinging on to their victory against expectations in 2010. "Any side that's through now is a top-quality side and every side has danger players in there and can win games," said Kieswetter. "You have to be on your best performance. We realised that at the last world T20. To win every game you've got to be playing your best."
Not batting at their worst would be a place to start.
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