It has been 15 months since he last played for England, but Kevin Pietersen continues to divide opinion in English cricket. And even as England head into another key series against New Zealand, which many are viewing as a build up to the more significant Ashes, the shadow of the Pietersen saga looms large. It was just days ago that Pietersen registered his highest first class score of 355 not out, and staked his claim for an England spot, only to be told by the new director of English cricket, Andrew Strauss -- with whom KP did not share a great equation during his playing days -- that there was no place for him. This was immediately followed by Pietersen accusing ECB of mud-slinging among other allegations.
Match: England vs New Zealand, 1st Test at London, 21 May, 2015
Time: Match begins at 11:00 local time (3:30 PM IST | 10:00 GMT)
The KP developments wouldn't help England as they try to concentrate on their on-field where, as it is, they have enough troubles of their own. Alastair Cook may have registered his much sought after ton, but somehow his place as a leader and batsman remains under the scanner, especially since the team has failed to lift its performance under him. They recently tied the two-Test series with West Indies, which is as good as a loss, since the Windies are placed eight in the Test table. And, although Cook wasn't part of England's World Cup campaign, the shadow of the debacle continues to loom over the side. And will do so until they find a soothing balm to relieve their fans.
England go into the series with an overhaul of sorts with Strauss taking charge as director, and Peter Moores being sacked as coach. And, while Cook remains in charge of the side, he will have a new opening partner in Yorkshire's Adam Lyth. The 27-year old left-hander averages 43 in first-class cricket with 15 centuries. With the Jonathan Trott experiment failing against West Indies, and culminating in his retirement, England would be desperate to find a settled opening pair. They have tried Nick Compton and Michael Carberry at that position in the past, but with the poor efforts of the duo, the men in charge aren't too keen to go back to the duo.
Amidst all the ruins in English cricket, Joe Root is one man who had kept his reputation in tact. In the World Cup, as well as the series against West Indies, and in preceding matches as well, he has consistently done a fine job. England will want him to continue with the same. In fact, if you take out Lyth, England's batting has a rather familiar look. They will be depending on the likes of Gary Ballance and Ian Bell to shore up the middle-order. Jos Buttler has also been a very good addition to the side considering his ability to play the situation-turning knocks. In the bowling of course, they will be dependent on the experienced duo of James Anderson and Stuart Broad to deliver the goods.
The opponents, New Zealand, will head into the tournament on an unexpected high having made it to the final of the World Cup. And, although Tests would be a completely different ball game, the confidence of that performance would remain with them. In Brendon McCullum, they have an in-form batsman, and an extremely aggressive leader. Also, the Kiwis haven't lost a Test series since going down to England two years back. That would give them further assurance. In Trent Boult and Tim Southee they have two high-quality fast bowlers. But, the Kiwis too have issues to sort out. Martin Guptill has been recalled, and will be under pressure to re-establish himself in the Test side. Also, Kane Williamson had a poor World Cup, so he needs to get his confidence back. Do not rule up England completely then.
--By A Cricket Analyst