Kevin Pietersen has put himself at the top of the agenda again in yet another tumultuous week for English cricket.
Pietersen chose the day before his former Test captain and new England and Wales Cricket Board director, Andrew Strauss, addresses his public in a Lord’s press conference, to hit a career-best triple century against Leicestershire in LV= Division Two at The Oval.
The superstar batsman finished on 326 not out, and said afterwards: “I’m incredibly proud of how I played under pressure. What more can I do? All I can do is score runs. I’m ready to play for England.”
Pietersen was fulfilling his part of a bargain, loosely struck after the incoming ECB chairman, Colin Graves, hinted there was a way back into the fold after all for Pietersen – via runs for Surrey this summer.
Within 24 hours, Strauss will be joined by the new ECB chief executive, Tom Harrison, to set out their plans for the Ashes summer and beyond in a round of press interviews.
Strauss is then expected to be the driving force behind discussions as to who will be in the squad announced on Thursday to take on New Zealand in next week’s first Investec Test at Lord’s.
It is only two days since Strauss was officially appointed, 30 minutes before Saturday afternoon’s ECB confirmation in a separate statement that coach Peter Moores had been sacked.
Both had been open secrets following leaks into the public domain in the preceding days – and among several vexed topics, Strauss and Harrison can expect to be quizzed on how that came to pass and how it reflects on the governing body.
The most pressing questions, however, will probably concern Pietersen.
The South Africa-born record-breaker was sacked by the ECB in February last year in the aftermath of England’s 2013/14 Ashes whitewash defeat.
For almost the entirety of the intervening 15 months, it has seemed implausible that he could return, especially as he will be 35 by the time this summer’s Ashes rematch begins.
Following Graves’ apparent encouragement, however, in two March interviews – and Pietersen’s timely runs – the issue must be revisited.
Moores, appointed for a second time just a year ago, had lost the same job in early 2009 after a power struggle with Pietersen.
This time, England have dispensed with his services – apparently at Strauss’s behest – on the back of a string of disappointing results, notably the embarrassing early exit from the World Cup this winter and a drawn Test series against a West Indies team Graves described beforehand as “mediocre”.
England, consequently, have slipped further off the pace in yesterday’s updated International Cricket Council Test rankings – to fifth, well adrift of table-toppers South Africa and Australia in second, but only two points behind third-placed New Zealand.
There will be no shortage of subject matter, then, for Strauss and Harrison to cover, and a significant degree of urgency, too, as to whether Pietersen can have any place either – least likely – in their team against New Zealand or – more feasibly, perhaps – to take on Australia again from July.
Two impediments to Pietersen’s return have gone, in the dismissals of Moores and Paul Downton, Strauss’ predecessor in a key management role.
But Strauss and Pietersen have very tasty “previous”, too.
During the troubled summer of 2012, Pietersen had to admit sending “provocative” texts about his captain to opposition players from their native South Africa, and then last summer Strauss embarrassingly let slip exactly what he thought of his former team-mate with an obscenity picked up on a stray broadcast mic.
Strauss will doubtless speak with more of his customary diplomacy, and authority, back at HQ today, and will do so with an endorsement from Graves, in a national newspaper, that it will be his decision as to who succeeds Moores.
Australians Jason Gillespie and Justin Langer have been touted for a job which will be done in the short term at least, for two Tests against the Kiwis this month, by Moores’ assistant Paul Farbrace.
Much must be decided as England somehow try to regain their composure in time for their Ashes rematch.
The picture may just start to clear a little at Lord’s today.