Sunday, 6 March 2011

How important is it that KP's coming home?

Kevin Pietersen has apparently had a "dodgy hernia" for a while, and yesterday it was announced that it would be operated on after the World Cup. But now the news is that he's not going to make it that far, and will travel home for surgery tomorrow.

KP has had an up and down time of it in ODIs over the past two years. He had a bad injury in the 2009 summer, which he took a long time to really recover from and become the Kevin Pietersen of old (arguably until the double ton at Adelaide during the Ashes), and while he showed signs of improvement in tests, he hasn't scored runs in ODIs for so long that I'm struggling to remember the last time he batted well in 50 over cricket.

England have tried to get him going. He was dropped completely from the Pakistan ODI series, and has been pushed up to open for the World Cup, in an attempt to get him scoring runs again.

England have had mixed success without KP firing - up until the Australia debacle and start to this World Cup they've actually been pretty good. But Kevin Pietersen for all of his flaws is a class batsman, and it would be too simplistic to say "England have done well when he did nothing, so it doesn't matter whether he plays or not", as England are clearly much stronger with him in the team than without. However, it can't be ignored that the fact England have attempted to boot him into life suggests that part of the problem with KP is an application issue, rather than ability. If reports are to be believed, he's to quit ODIs anyway after this World Cup, which suggests that he can't be 100% bothered with playing 50 over cricket anyway. So how big a loss would a disinterested Kevin Pietersen be?

KP possesses the ability to dominate the middle overs of an ODI, and dictate the pace (in what is often a stalemate period of gearing up for later onslaughts). While he has opened with relative success, I feel that he should be used in those middle overs, rather than up top facing the new ball. On his day (if he is to have any more of his days in ODIs for England) Kevin Pietersen is perhaps the best in the world - certainly one of the best limited over batsmen around. So for him to go home would obviously be a big loss.

But KP's importance can only be measured by who replaces him. If England have a ready made world class batsman ready to step into the side, then the loss of Kev won't be as keenly felt. Which is where Eoin Morgan comes in.

The issue of replacing KP is a conundrum in itself. England could go for Morgan, as he is a proven brilliant ODI player. However, Morgan is nursing a broken finger, and after a poor Australian series, there's no guarantee that he'll be fit, ready, or able to score runs. And if they do go for Morgan, it will mean that the balance of the team will need to be shifted, with someone going up to open with Strauss to make space for Morgan in the middle order. And (today aside) the middle order has been what's kept England competitve in this World Cup - so changing it drastically could be disastrous.

This is where the clamour for a like-for-like opener comes in, and Craig Kieswetter (who's been scoring runs for fun) has already been touted highly by some. Craig can be a real 'pinch-hitter' on sub continental tracks, and could rack up some big scores in the powerplay overs - the reason KP's been opening in the first place. But he was dropped after a poor English summer and replaced by Steve Davies, so it would be a turnaround surprise. And if Kiesy did get in, it would open a can of worms with Matt Prior, as to who should keep or whether someone could play as a specialist bat.

Other specialist openers who could get the call are Alastair Cook and Jimmy Adams. Cook is now the golden boy of English cricket following a mercurial Ashes, but his ODI form isn't brilliant (hence why he hasn't played since Bangladesh last year, and that was just because he was captain). And as good a season as Jimmy Adams had last year - he is unproven at international level, and the latter stages of a World Cup is a pretty deep end to discover whether someone can sink or swim.

After putting this out there on Twitter, I had some other random names back. There is clamour (as there often is) for Adil Rashid, and even Samit Patel - mainly to help bolster a spin bowling attack that has been weakened by the inclusion of Mick Yardy. But adding another spinning all-rounder to the squad isn't what England need, as the batting would be horrendously weak.

Were I making the decision, I'd pick Eoin Morgan. While it does require a rejig, Morgy is a world-class batsman, and exactly what England have been missing in later overs, where innings have ground to a halt. His inventive hitting can be England's X Factor, and the difference between an ignominous group stage exit, and a trip on the rollercoaster to wherever it takes us. Ian Bell always bats well with Strauss, and would be a great bet to open, so there would be no problems there. While KP will be a big loss to this England team, getting Morgan in can be the shot in the arm that this team (who have already shown massive signs of complacency) need, and while it will be at the expense of a great ODI batsman, the addition of a better ODI batsman can see England to great things.

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