Kevin Pietersen scored 24 while opening the England innings against Canada in their practice opener at Fatullah © Getty Images
Kevin Pietersen scored 24 while opening the England innings against Canada in their practice opener at Fatullah © Getty Images

 

By Joshua Green

 

Given the chopping and changing at the top of England‘s batting order over the last few years, we should really have expected at least one more surprise. But few would have predicted it would be Kevin Pietersen in at the top of the order.

 

I have long argued that Pietersen should bat at No 3 for England across all formats, as he does regularly in Twenty20s – and with considerable success. But the man himself seems reluctant to do so, which makes his enthusiasm for the openers’ role all the more surprising.

 

The numbers of opening partnerships England have used since the last World Cup are well known, its not far off 20 now, which gives you an idea of the problem they are facing.  A solid opening partnership is very important in ODIs – witness the success of Gilchrist and Hayden over the years for proof of that. So is Pietersen paired with the more conservative Andrew Strauss the answer?

 

Probably not, would be my response. And not necessarily because he won’t succeed at the top (he’s got all the talent and a lot more to succeed in the role), more because of the gap it creates in the middle order. Yes, of course, Pietersen loves to bash the quicks around, we saw his consummate demolition of Shaun Tait and Dale Steyn in the World Twenty20 last year to make that point, but he can also be a destroyer of spinners. Someone able to do that in the middle order is key on the sub continent.

 

In the game against Canada, Matt Prior stood up to be counted. And he has, without question, improved against spin. But we shouldn’t read too much into one innings against a weak Canadian attack; facing Harbhajan Singh and Piyush Chawla, or Saeed Ajmal and Shahid Afridi will be an altogether different prospect.

 

There is also, as someone pointed out to me just yesterday, the psychological damage of losing Pietersen very early. Eoin Morgan‘s absence leaves the middle order looking a little shy, having Pietersen up your sleeve always engenders a bit of confidence.

 

Few of Andy Flower’s calls backfire comprehensively and Pietersen the opener may be another where he is proved right. In fact I hope he is, but I remain sceptical that it is the answer to England’s recent batting frailties.

 

(Josh is a long-time lover of cricket of all creeds. He’ll just as happily sit and watch a game of village cricket as gather among the thousands at The Oval to watch England.  A Surrey fan and member, he’s suffered enough humiliating losses but loves the county nonetheless, and England of course.  His favourite cricket memory, much to the annoyance of friends who have heard the story many a time, was being witness to Test cricket’s slowest-ever 12, from 96 balls by Rahul Dravid at The Oval in 2007)