West Indies the focus but Kevin Pietersen’s shadow looms over England

Alastair Cook

Three hours before boarding their plane for the Caribbean on Thursday morning, the England Test captain, Alastair Cook, and his head coach, Peter Moores, sang in perfect harmony.

The hatchet over Cook’s removal from the one-day side before that abominable World Cup campaign, we are told, has been removed. Their sole focus? The three-Test series against West Indies that begins a week on Monday. Their main frustration? Fielding questions about you know who.

It seems whatever the captain, his head coach and their team do, the spectre of Kevin Pietersen looms large over it. Not that Cook or Moores were particularly evasive. They engaged with the subject and even accepted its topicality but they also neatly pointed upwards to their seniors at the England and Wales Cricket Board when it came to responsibility.

Colin Graves, the incoming chairman, Tom Harrison, the chief executive, and Paul Downton, the managing director, are the guys to ask about Pietersen’s chances of a comeback, they said. All three men were in attendance, buzzing around behind the scenes as besuited players shuffled around the hotel at Gatwick airport. None were in front of the microphones, of course.

Pietersen, if you have spent the past 32 days unhooked from the matrix, wants back in. The 34-year-old batsman saw the door to an England return – previously bolted top and bottom – creak slightly ajar when Graves publicly stated that, rightly, he must play county cricket in order to make any talk of adding to his 104 Test caps mean something.

After conversations with Graves over the phone, Pietersen secured release from his Indian Premier League commitments with Sunrisers Hyderabad and now embarks on a run-plundering mission at Surrey in Division Two in the hope that a failing England set-up will hit select-all delete on memories of his incendiary autobiography and come calling. If there is a chance, it remains Rizla-thin.

All that matters for Cook and Moores, they insisted, is the next five weeks and an opposition described recently by Graves – who does not officially start his job until 15 May – as “mediocre”. Those comments have created something of a stir in the Caribbean, and when a considered and respected broadcaster such as Tony Cozier compares them to Tony Greig’s famous “grovel’ line in 1976, you know a nerve has been touched. The current Test captain insists he does not share the sentiment.

“Anyone who has got to cross over the line and face 90mph bowling from the likes of Kemar Roach and play against some very experienced cricketers will have a different view,” Cook said. “Certainly in our team, we do. To win any series away from home takes a huge amount of skill and effort, so we’ve just got to focus on that. People can say what they want but it’s irrelevant to us. We’re there to take wickets and score runs.”

On that last point, Cook could do with a few. Ever since his name was foolishly included in the statement that announced Pietersen’s separation from the England team 14 months ago, the left-hander – who approaches two years without an international century – has looked haunted at the crease. The 30-year-old pointed to scores of 95, 70 not out and 79 in the 3-1 win over India last summer as signs of recovery. They are, however, scarcely remembered as vintage.

“The beauty of cricket is what record you have behind you, what you’ve achieved in the past, it’s always irrelevant,” said Cook, who claims he is fresh again after three months at home with his young family. “Every time you bat you start on nought. That’s what motivates me and nothing will give me more pleasure on this trip than scoring runs and leading England.”

Both Cook and Moores had hoped to talk at greater length about the players inside the squad jostling to make their XI for the first Test in Antigua on 13 April, rather than the one outside it who has not faced a red ball since January last year. They did, at times, manage to turn some of the chat in that direction.

“This is about an England team and we haven’t mentioned their names,” Moores said. “Their dreams are being made on this trip – Adam Lyth being one, Mark Wood another – and that they’re not getting airtime is frustrating. There’s Adil Rashid, and Jonathan Trott has worked hard to get back into this England team. I understand Kevin is a huge subject but I don’t think me or Cooky can be drawn into that.”

Cook said: “We’ve got to focus on the exciting thing and that’s the next few weeks, and the guys that are lucky enough to pull on that shirt, to represent our country, to be committed to playing for England. I was with Adam Lyth when he got that phone call from [national selector] James Whitaker in Dubai. This tough Yorkshireman was then in tears talking to his mum. That is what playing cricket for England is. And getting that opportunity, to be standing in the airport in his first England suit, he’ll remember it forever now. We’ve got to concentrate on that.”

Both men are right to an extent. Trott’s comeback from troubled times is an uplifting story, the idea of an English leg-spinner in Rashid mouthwatering and if the young fast bowler Wood is as captivating with the ball as he is in an interview, England have a crackerjack cricketer on their hands.

But, as always, it all comes back to results. To shore up their own positions – and make the number of Pietersen’s runs for Surrey an irrelevance – Cook and Moores simply need this series won handsomely.

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Ali Martin, for The Guardian on Thursday 2nd April 2015 18.16 Europe/London

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