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A new England order: Pietersen goes to the top

Before this year, Kevin Pietersen had walked out to open an innings only six times, and that too in List 'A' games. And given his form, or the lack of it, in the last two years speculation was rife that the flamboyant batsman could quit one-day internationals after the World Cup. Abhijeet Kulkarni reports.

cricket Updated: Feb 21, 2011 00:03 IST
Abhijeet Kulkarni

Before this year, Kevin Pietersen had walked out to open an innings only six times, and that too in List 'A' games. And given his form, or the lack of it, in the last two years speculation was rife that the flamboyant batsman could quit one-day internationals after the World Cup.

But the 30-year-old was quick to quash any such talks, and could well prove to be the defining factor in England's bid to break the jinx of making early exits from the quadrennial event since 1996.

For that to happen, it was essential that the South Africa-born player was given the freedom to cut loose and get to play the maximum number of overs. England coach Andy Flower has decided to do just that, by thrusting him with the responsibility of opening the innings with captain Andrew Strauss.

CHANGING PARTNERS
Pietersen will be the 13th opening partner for Strauss since the last World Cup. But given the fact that the fluent stroke-maker was dropped from the squad last year, and managed just one half-century in the seven-match series against Australia --- England lost 1-6 --- it could cast doubts over whether the move would succeed.

However, England wicket-keeper Matt Prior, who had to make way for Pietersen at the top of the order, feels the move is in the right direction, especially considering the wickets in the sub-continent were slow.

"It's a positive move," said Prior, who was in the England 'A' squad that toured in 2004, when Pietersen opened the innings and scored 131 runs off 122 balls in a team total of 228.

WARMING UP
Pietersen managed to give a good account of himself in the two warm up
games, ahead of their opener against Netherlands on Tuesday, and though
he did not send the scoring rate soaring, his presence at the top gave the team a strong foundation to build on.

"Wickets in the sub-continent would suit him. If KP (Pietersen) is up and running, he can take the game away from any opposition. If he can bat for 30 overs, he will score big and the team's score will be even bigger," Prior added.

FINISHING TOUCHES
The shake up has resulted in Prior being shifted down to number six or seven. The wicket-keeper batsman would have the responsibility of filling the shoes of the injured Eoin Morgan and play the role of a finisher.

“It scares me. I don't think anyone can replace Morgan. But I will certainly give it a good go,” added the 28-year-old, who was surprised with his World Cup selection after being out of contention till six months ago.