Alex Hales’ half-century and handy contributions from Luke Wright, Eoin Morgan and Jonny Bairstow powered England to 172 for six in their first warm-up match. Only the world-class precision batting and hitting of Michael Hussey (71) then managed to make a game of it at the Nondescripts CC, before Australia fell nine runs short.
It all left Australia all-rounder Shane Watson in no doubt that, although Pietersen’s absence is no help to England, they have the right youngsters to compensate.
“As a player there’s no doubt he will be missed – Kevin Pietersen is an amazingly talented batsman,” Watson said. “In the last [Twenty20] World Cup, he was one of the big reasons why England won it. But England have a number of very exciting young guys coming in, who can do a really good job as well.”
Watson was equivocal about how big a disadvantage it might prove to England to have to get by without their most gifted batsman, still out in the cold after his protracted summer contract wrangles with his employers and the breakdown of his working relationship with coach Andy Flower and former Test captain Andrew Strauss.
“It won’t have too much of a dent in the England side, because they’ll be able to make up for it pretty well,” he said.
“But any time you lose a player of Kevin Pietersen’s class it’s going to be hard for you.”
Among those tasked with replicating the Pietersen effect on the field is his direct replacement at the top of the order, Hales.
The tall opener made a remarkable start, in the very first assignment of his mission improbable when he hit England’s highest Twenty20 individual score of 99 against West Indies on his home ground at Trent Bridge three months ago. Yesterday, he fared pretty well too, making 52 to underpin England’s total as he and Wright shared an important second-wicket stand of 88.
“He hit the ball very nicely, and is obviously going to be a big player for England at the top of the order,” Watson said.
Hales himself will not be distracted by his billing as Pietersen’s deputy, knowing he cannot afford to allow the matter to cloud his vision.
“I try not to think about that,” he said. “I try just to focus on my own game, and do what I’ve done for Notts and do as well as I can for England.”
Hales helped to deliver a morale boost for England’s prospects in Sri Lanka, a fifth successive victory this year over Australia coming only after Stuart Broad got the vital wicket of Hussey just when it seemed the batsman was taking the game away.
The experience was a learning curve as well as a confidence-builder and Hales added: “We’ve got some really exciting young players and some great talent in there. We’ll work hard thoroughly on each game.
“Pace off the ball is always pretty tough in the sub-continent. But we’ve got some great strikers in the middle order – and I think we’ll do okay.”
While England will certainly be without Pietersen for the ICC World Twenty20 campaign, it remains to be seen whether he is to land a Test recall. That question will be answered today when England’s selectors name their squad to travel to India.