England are optimistic about Kevin Pietersen’s comeback, according to team director Andy Flower.
Pietersen has not played since March, when England faced New Zealand in Wellington. Since then a knee injury has seen him ruled out of the return series against the Black Caps, the Indian Premier League and the forthcoming Champions Trophy. The goal has always been for Pietersen to be fully fit in time for the flagship Ashes series, which begins at Trent Bridge on 10 July.
Flower said: “We are thinking optimistically about Kevin’s injury improving and it’s nice that he’s pain free. That is great news for him and for us.
“Kevin’s a really special player and we want him back as soon as he’s fit enough to be back.”
Captain Alastair Cook has admitted Pietersen would be an automatic pick as soon as he became available but his absence has allowed the likes of Joe Root and Jonny Bairstow to flourish.
The Yorkshire pair both enjoyed impressive outings on their home ground in England’s 247-run win Headingley this week, with Root hitting a maiden Test century and Bairstow adding fluent knocks of 64 and 26 not out.
Flower added: “Joe has played outstandingly well in all three forms of the game since he’s been given the chance to play international cricket and he’s handled it really well.”
There has been some debate as to how England will restructure their batting order when Pietersen does return, with two realistic options. One is a straight swap of Pietersen for Bairstow and the other is moving Root up to open and dispensing with the out-of-form Nick Compton.
Root has opened the batting for Yorkshire but has played so impressively in the middle order that it would potentially be a gamble to change his role in the pressurised environment of the Ashes. England have plenty of time to decide, though, and it could hinge on Compton’s ability to find form in county cricket.
Flower was giving nothing away when he said: “None of us can foretell the future. It’s been a great series for Joe and it was nice that he got the man of the series too, but we don’t know what’s going to happen in the future, none of us do. We’ll see how things pan out.”
Australia skipper Michael Clarke insists Australia are fully focused on the ICC Champions Trophy despite the Ashes being just over a month away.
Skipper Clarke and his team are in Cardiff ahead of the defence of the trophy they won in South Africa in 2009.
It also marks the start of their tour of the United Kingdom, the centrepiece of which will be their attempt to regain the urn, having lost the last two five-Test rubbers against their fiercest rivals.
Clarke and Australia will get a chance to score what could be seen as a psychological blow when they meet England in their Group A opener at Edgbaston on 8 June 8. But the 32-year-old insists he and his team-mates are fully focused on winning the Champions Trophy.
“It’s a very important game because it’s the first game of this tournament for us,” he said. “But I don’t think we as a team are focused on the Ashes at all at this stage. No doubt there’s a lot of build-up in regards to media and the public back home. I certainly have no problems in speaking about it and hearing about the Ashes because it’s a fantastic series that every Australian cricketer looks forward to.”
Meanwhile, Pakistani umpire Asad Rauf denies being involved in spot-fixing or match-fixing and says he’s ready to face the ICC anti-corruption unit after the game’s governing body pulled him out of the Champions Trophy.
Rauf was withdrawn last week because Indian police are investigating his performances in the Indian Premier League. Speaking in Lahore, he said: “I deny all the news coming from the media regarding spot-fixing, match-fixing, taking gifts and money. I tell you one thing very clearly that, throughout my life, money and gifts do not matter to me.”
Rauf said if the International Cricket Council constituted any hearing against him, he would appear before it. “I am happy to answer any questions,” he said.
In the just-concluded IPL, Indian police arrested three Rajasthan Royals players, Chennai Super Kings official Gurunath Meiyappan and several bookmakers.