Kevin Pietersen can fill Botham's role: Mike Gatting

England surprised fans by promoting Pietersen to the top of the order in a warm-up match against Canada.

London: Feb 18, 2011

Former England captain Mike Gatting has backed Kevin Pietersen to be the current side’s batting equivalent of Ian Botham when the South Africa-born shotmaker opens at the World Cup.

Wicketkeeper Matt Prior, having won back his place in the squad from rival gloveman Steven Davies, had been a candidate to open although his previous stints at the top of the order had met with mixed success.

And there were suggestions that either one of Ian Bell or Jonathan Trott should partner England captain Andrew Strauss for the first wicket.

But England surprised most people outside their camp by promoting Pietersen, normally a number four, to the top of the order in a warm-up match against Canada and then announcing they intended to stick with him in his new role for the World Cup.

Pietersen certainly looked the part on Friday when he smashed 66 off 73 balls opening the innings in the team’s final warm-up against Pakistan in Dhaka.

Gatting said given the range of shots available to Pietersen, arguably England’s most talented batsman, it made sense to give him as much time to bat as possible.

The former Middlesex run-machine said the ploy could prove as successful as that used during his playing days when the big-hitting Botham, a middle-order batsman in Test cricket, was promoted to open in one-dayers — in which role he helped England reach the 1992 World Cup final.

“It’s interesting to see KP opening because we weren’t quite sure what the coach was going to do with that position,” Gatting said at the launch of joint venture by the Lord’s Taverners charity and the Macquarie Group to promote disabled participation in table cricket.

“It’s a very interesting step to take and it will be a talking point, but looking back to when I played one-day cricket, we used to open with Ian Botham.

“The fact is he (Pietersen) is talented, can hit the ball through the field and over the top,” Gatting added. “He can really give impetus.”

Gatting said too many teams had fallen into the trap of trying to follow the example of Adam Gilchrist in having a wicketkeeper open in one-day cricket when their batting ability was nowhere near that of the Australia great, who four years ago scored the fastest-ever World Cup final hundred.

“What you want in the one-day stuff is for your best players to get in quickly and for a long time,” Gatting explained. Sometimes you put your keeper up there and you can end up with a specialist batsman not getting as long at the crease. If Kevin gets going early then he has 50 overs to bat and it will be damaging for the opposition if he stays in,” Gatting said.

England, who have never won the World Cup despite appearing in three finals, begin the 2011 tournament proper against the Netherlands in Nagpur on Tuesday.