Kevin Pietersen is hoping he can relive his England dream after all thanks to the new contract he has signed with Surrey.
Barriers to his Test recall remain many – not least that the record-breaking batsman, who will be 35 by the time this summer’s Ashes begin, must demonstrate a return to his best form and fitness.
I just want a blank sheet of paper, and to be judged on meritKevin Pietersen
But after Surrey confirmed on Tuesday they have signed him to play in LV= County Championship Division Two, Pietersen has perhaps secured his passport to reconsideration by England.
Even that is not assured given the mixed messages emanating from the England and Wales Cricket Board.
Paul Downton described the controversial Pietersen as “disengaged” in his final Test to date as England lost heavily in Sydney to complete their Ashes whitewash almost 15 months ago.
The ECB managing director has since been steadfast in his appraisal that Pietersen will not be back – as has national selector James Whitaker and coach Peter Moores, while Test captain Alastair Cook rates the prospect “highly unlikely”.
Incoming chairman Colin Graves is soon to be the most powerful voice of all at the governing body, though, and his indication this month that a return could yet be possible – via county cricket – is the potential game-changer.
Pietersen extricated himself from the majority of his Indian Premier League contract thanks to the Sunrisers Hyderabad, and Surrey signed him up once his immediate availability was assured.
Pietersen knows exactly what he must do to navigate the next hoop of re-qualification after the ECB sacked him in February last year. “All I am looking for is a fair opportunity to play for England again,” he said in his newspaper column.
“I just want a blank sheet of paper, and to be judged on merit.”
After two telephone conversations with Graves, he will soon speak to the new chairman “face to face”.
“I think he is open to discussing drawing a line in the sand in terms of what’s gone on,” he added.
“Even if this does not work out and I do not get back in the England team, I will at least end my career knowing I gave it another shot.
“I would kick myself for a long time if I walked away now, without having a go.”
Pietersen, who will donate his Surrey wages to his own charity foundation, has related his despair when he thought for sure his England days were done.
“For 14 months it has been very painful to think I would never play for England again and my career had come to a sad, premature end,” he said.
“But when I heard Colin Graves say that I would be considered for selection again if I play county cricket and score runs, I realised I had the opportunity for a fresh start.”
Cook was present at the meeting when Pietersen was sacked.
But the South Africa-born star insists he can work again with both Cook and Moores – who, like then captain Pietersen, lost his job after their apparent power struggle in 2009. “I never had any issues with Alastair Cook,” he said.
“I said in my book that I was disappointed he could not look me in the eye during that meeting – but there is no issue with me.
“He is a nice guy. He is one of England’s greatest ever cricketers. He has 25 Test hundreds. Of course I can play with Alastair again.
“Likewise, of course I can play under Peter Moores.”
Surrey director of cricket Alec Stewart is anticipating a very handy spin-off from Pietersen’s renewed motivation.
He told kiaoval.com: “A Kevin Pietersen with ambitions to play for England and a real determination to score big runs for Surrey will be a huge asset to us.” Stewart added on Sky Sports News: “He thought the door had been completely shut in his face, locked and the key thrown away.
“But... he has now got that desire and ambition back.
“If it doesn’t happen, at least he can say there is closure on his career; if it does, you may see him wearing an England shirt for another three or four more years.”
Pietersen must earn his route back into Test cricket – even if Graves holds sway over others.
Bookmakers Betfair rate his chances of a return in the first Ashes Test 11/4 and still make him 1-3 never to feature for England in any format again.
It is not long ago, in another context, that Pietersen described the lesser lights of the county circuit as “muppets”.
He may find some of them preparing an ambush for him on early-season pitches.
“A lot of people thought I would not be prepared to put in the hard yards and play county cricket – but I will do anything to get that England cap back on my head,” he said.
“I am not going to disrespect county cricket by expecting to score runs with ease.
“Quite the opposite. It will take hard work, lots of it, but I have the hunger. I might not play well enough to get back in, and injuries could strike... but at the end of the day, I want to give this a go because I am desperate to play for England again.”