The incoming England and Wales Cricket board chairman, Colin Graves, has spoken directly to Kevin Pietersen and intends to meet him when the exiled batsman returns to the country after his commentary stint at the Cricket World Cup.
The Guardian understands the duo have already held at least one telephone conversation, with the 34-year-old Pietersen seeking assurances as to how genuine his chances of an England recall would be if he were to sign a deal to play county cricket for Surrey this summer.
That Pietersen and Surrey have been negotiating a return to The Oval already, in light of this news, suggests that stumbling blocks over whether it would be worth his while could be about to be removed.
Contrary to reports, however, the deal is yet to be signed off and, as it stands, may not go through until a scheduled meeting between Graves and Pietersen following the World Cup final on 29 March.
This latest revelation of open dialogue between the new man in charge of English cricket and the national team’s pariah came on a day when both the Test captain, Alastair Cook, and the national selector, James Whitaker, had insisted there was no way back for Pietersen.
“I think it’s very unlikely,” said Cook. “There’s been a hell of a lot of stuff happened with his book and all that kind of stuff. It’s a long way back from that.”
Speaking to the BBC, Whitaker added: “Kevin is not part of our plans and we have not discussed Kevin being in our team.” What it means for their future and that of the ECB managing director, Paul Downton, the man who oversaw Pietersen’s removal, remains to be seen.
Graves got the ball rolling on Pietersen’s return when, in a radio interview on 1 March, he hinted at a softening of the stance towards him and insisted a deal to play county cricket could bring about a recall, only for an ECB statement that night to insist “nothing had changed”.
But Pietersen, emboldened by the interview, sought a route out of his £205,000 deal to play in the Indian Premier League for Sunrisers Hyderabad. The franchise are comfortable with his release but the Board of Control for Cricket in India are yet to sign it off and could yet hold him to it.
“If I can do anything that can help me get back into it for England then it’s something I want to do. I love playing for England,” Pietersen told BBC’s Test Match Special, for whom he is a summariser during the knockout stages of the ongoing World Cup.
Cook, who has been furnished with a 16-man Test squad for next month’s tour of the Caribbean that includes the recalled Jonathan Trott and six Yorkshire players, went on to tell the Cricket Badger website that a lack of leadership, following the decision to remove him as 50-over captain, was a reason for England’s failed World Cup campaign.
“I think you saw in Australia the dangers of making such a big decision so close to the tournament,” he said. “I don’t know what’s gone on on that tour, and I can only speak from watching a little bit from afar, but it did look like the lads were shell-shocked from the first two games. That’s when you need real leadership to help steer you through that. Whether I would have made a difference, I don’t know. But I was fully confident we would get out of our group, and from there, you’ve got to win three games in a row - that’s how this World Cup has worked.”
Cook, who is preparing for the Caribbean tour with a four-day match for MCC against Yorkshire in Abu Dhabi, starting this Sunday, believes he must rebuild the confidence of the side, with the return of an experienced batsman such as Trott, after 16 months out of the squad due to a stress-related illness, a timely boost.
Cook’s own disappointment at missing out on the World Cup due to a personal battle for form has clearly not diminished during an enforced three-month break from cricket. “As any captain will tell you, leading your country in a World Cup is a huge honour and one that can never be taken lightly. I was very much looking forward to that,” he added. “I understand the pressure I was under. I wasn’t scoring the runs I should, or could, have been scoring, so I understand that my position was in jeopardy. I said at the end of [the ODI series in] Sri Lanka that if there was a change, I couldn’t complain because I hadn’t scored the runs.
“I can’t speak about what’s gone on there in depth, but you always back yourself, and I would have loved to have had the opportunity that was taken away from me. The selectors made that decision because they thought it was the best for English cricket. Hindsight has probably proved them wrong, but now it’s very easy to say that.
“We have a repairing job to do, and the only way of doing that is by playing some good cricket and to start winning. We built that momentum a little bit after the Ashes 14 or 15 months ago with a slightly younger side, including the likes of Gary Ballance and Joe Root. There was a good feelgood factor about the English game in the middle of August after the Test matches. Since then, it’s been tough going. We’ve got to rebuild again.”
The news that Graves, who replaces Giles Clarke as chairman in May, has been in open dialogue with Pietersen will only make that rebuilding more complicated.
AN Cook (capt), IJL Trott, A Lyth, GS Ballance, IR Bell, JE Root, JC Buttler (wkt), JM Bairstow (wkt), BA Stokes, AU Rashid, JC Tredwell, LE Plunkett, SCJ Broad, CJ Jordan, JM Anderson, MA Wood.
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