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Pietersen relieved of `A' team duty

By Paul Weaver

LONDON, FEB. 16. Kevin Pietersen took another stride towards England's Test side when he was withdrawn from the `A' team's tour to the United Arab Emirates and Sri Lanka, which starts next week.

Pietersen, who scored 454 runs in six one-day innings against South Africa, is nursing a minor injury but that is not the real reason for the move, which is to place a protective arm around a major talent who — for the moment at least — is not centrally contracted to the England and Wales Cricket Board.

His fast-tracking into this summer's Ashes side would be welcomed by most. Tim Tremlett, director of cricket at Hampshire, Pietersen's new county, said, "the Test selectors will be under a lot of pressure to bring Kevin into the Test side as quickly as possible.

"At Hampshire we are looking forward to his playing alongside Shane Warne next season. But we are resigned to the fact that he will be missing during the Test matches and one-day internationals."

The coach who, perhaps, knows him better than any other, is Mick Newell, director of cricket at Nottinghamshire, where the batsman played for four seasons. "Kevin should definitely play in the Ashes," he said. "The only people surprised by what he did in South Africa were those who had never seen him play county cricket."

Technically sound

Pietersen has already proved he has the talent and strong temperament to succeed at Test level. But does he have the technique? Newell has no doubts. "He is a fantastic talent who has smashed down every obstacle in his path and he will smash this down too.

"His movement towards the off-stump, to whip the ball through the leg side, is more pronounced in the one-day game. He has played straighter for us in first-class cricket.

"But he has the fantastic power and hand-eye co-ordination to get away with his occasionally faulty feet. He has got better each year and is now ready for Test cricket."

Mentally strong

Worcestershire's coach Tom Moody, more a one-day batsman than a Test player in his days with Australia, said, "he may not set the world alight in the Test game as he has done recently in one-day cricket, but I would say Kevin could do a good job batting between four and six in this summer's series. He's mentally very strong."

The selectors have been described as ruthless after their decision last year to ditch the wicketkeeper Chris Read in favour of Geraint Jones. But England's coach Duncan Fletcher is essentially conservative, which may dissuade him from tinkering with a successful side.

There is already pressure to bring Ian Bell into the middle order at the expense of Robert Key. If Pietersen forces his way in it could be in place of Graham Thorpe. A fully functioning Thorpe, who needs only two more caps to reach his century, would be a must for England but the series against South Africa suggested his powers might be on the wane.

It's a tricky one for David Graveney. "Following Kevin's outstanding performances in South Africa, the selectors have decided to withdraw him from the England `A' tour party, which departs on February 23," he said on Tuesday. "We believe that this decision is in Kevin's and England's best interests and he will now undertake pre-season training with his new county, Hampshire.

"This break will also ensure that he is able to fully recover from a minor hamstring strain before playing further competitive cricket."

Pietersen will be replaced on the `A' tour by Alastair Cook, Essex's 20-year-old opening batsman. —

© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2004

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