Kevin Pietersen did not fly out to Australia with the England squad last night as he has been granted compassionate leave, the England and Wales Cricket Board has confirmed.
England’s 17-man squad jetted off Down Under from Heathrow, but Pietersen will not join up with them until Sunday. It is understood that the batsman has been given the dispensation following the death of a friend.
The 33-year-old is expected to be available for England’s first warm-up game against Western Australia at Perth, which begins on 31 October. Pietersen became England’s highest ever all-formats run-scorer in August, when the hosts beat Australia 3-0 to clinch the urn for the third successive series. And Alastair Cook knows he, Joe Root and Jonathan Trott must score more runs this winter if England are to create history by winning the Ashes for a fourth successive time.
England beat the visitors 3-0 at home this summer, but they failed to pass 400 once. The hosts mainly relied on Ian Bell for big scores. Root was the only batsman in the top three to make a century while Cook and Trott posted poor averages in comparison to their usual high standards. The last time England managed to win four series in a row against the Australians came in 1890, and Cook concedes his team must build big scores to achieve that feat.
“I think 3-0 was a pretty good result, I would love to do that again, but clearly top-order runs out in Australia are vitally important,” Cook told a press conference at Heathrow Airport. “We saw that was the case last time we went there. We saw how big runs made a massive difference and set the game up.
“Sometimes in England 240 or 250 can be good scores with the overhead conditions, but the majority of the time, 400 in Australia is the bare minimum.
“It is the job of the top order to make sure we do that.”
Cook sneaked past 50 on two occasions this summer, but failed to make a ton and ended up scoring 277 runs at an average of 27.7. But he tore Australia apart the last time England went Down Under, when he scored 766 runs at an average of 127.
“I had a good tour last time and it would be great to repeat some of those feats there,” the Essex opener said. “I didn’t execute as well as I could have done this summer. Sometimes that happens. I enjoy batting in [Australian] conditions, the ball can be flying past your ears quite a lot, so it’s a great test of your skill in how to play fast bowling.”
Monty Panesar will play against WA as England look to assess his state of mind after he was arrested for urinating on a bouncer in Brighton in the summer. “Clearly he’d had a tough summer,” Cook said. “But I think he’s on the right path now.”
Oct 31-Nov 2: First warm-up v Western Australia, Perth
Nov 21-25: First Test, Brisbane
Dec 5-9: Second Test, Adelaide
Dec 13-17: Third Test, Perth
Dec 26-30: Fourth Test, Melbourne
Jan 3-7: Fifth Test, Sydney