Australia captain Michael Clarke believes England will be weaker without Kevin Pietersen this summer – but expects his side to have a tough job on their hands if they are to retain the Ashes.
Pietersen scored an unbeaten 355 in Surrey’s LV= County Championship clash with Leicestershire last week, but his hopes of earning an England recall were dashed when newly-appointed England and Wales Cricket Board director Andrew Strauss confirmed he would not be considered for this summer’s five-Test home series against Clarke’s side.
Strauss declared a “massive trust issue” between himself and Pietersen – England’s leading run scorer across all three formats –prevented him from ending the South Africa-born batsman’s 15-month international exile, but Clarke thinks that decision is a mistake.
Australia play two Tests against the West Indies before the first Ashes Test gets under way in Cardiff on July 8 and Clarke, who guided Australia to the 5-0 Ashes whitewash in 2013-14 which led to the end of Pietersen’s international career, confessed to mixed feelings about the 34-year-old’s latest exclusion.
“There’s probably two sides for me,” he said. “There’s the personal side where I feel for KP because I get on well with him and I’d love to see him back playing cricket for England.
“His form has been outstanding, he’s still a great player and I know he wants to play, so I feel for him on that side.
“The other side (is) we go there soon to play against England. Any team without Kevin Pietersen in it I don’t think is as strong.
“His statistics speak for themselves.
“He’s been a wonderful player over a long period of time and he’s obviously still in career-best form.”
Australia’s vice-captain Steve Smith recently declared that England would not “come close” to victory against Darren Lehmann’s side but Clarke, who guided the Baggy Green to their fifth World Cup title in March, has warned his team-mates against complacency.
“Playing away from home is your greatest challenge as an international sporting team and England will be tough,” said Clarke.
“When we get there, no matter what 11 players they put on the field they’re going to be really tough (because) they know their conditions well.
“As are West Indies, and it’s really important we stay focused this West Indies tour and have some success there.”
Pietersen’s former England team-mate Simon Jones echoed Clarke’s belief that England will regret refusing to consider the 34-year-old batsman for selection against New Zealand and Australia this summer.
Jones and Pietersen were part of the England side that won back the Ashes after 18 years of Australian dominance in 2005 and the 18-Test seam bowler believes Pietersen still has plenty to offer the national side.
“I would have (picked Pietersen), yeah,” said Jones.
“He got asked the question to go back and play county cricket, he did that and obviously didn’t go to the IPL (Indian Premier League).
“He showed hunger, he got 355 against Leicestershire – all right they aren’t great but you’ve still got to get the runs.”
Pietersen made a number of claims in his autobiography after his England sacking in February 2014 – the most prominent being that England suffered from a bullying culture and that former coach Andy Flower ruled by fear – but Jones believes any differences should have been settled in private.
“There were a lot of issues in that squad which I think weren’t handled well. At the end of the day you’re in a team environment and if you’ve got issues then you have got to sort them out,” he said.
“This isn’t under-15s cricket, this is men’s (cricket), you’re representing England and whether you’ve got an issue with the coach or the coach has an issue with you you’ve got to sit down and sort it out.
“I think that’s why it all came out in the press and in Kevin’s book because he had to keep quiet for a year because of his contract and then it all came out at the wrong time and he must have been very frustrated.
“At the same time I know Kevin very well and he can rub people up the wrong way but if there’s an issue you need to sort it out before it gets into the press.”
But Lord MacLaurin, ECB chairman between 1997 and 2002, believes Strauss and the ECB have done the right thing by ruling out a reconciliation in the near future.
He said: “If I was a selector and I was Andrew Strauss I wouldn’t touch Kevin Pietersen with a bargepole. He’s a mercenary cricketer now and he goes off and plays in the IPL and all those things. Quite frankly, if you look at his recent Test record it’s not all to be shouting about. You read the papers and think he gets a hundred every time he goes in.
“He gets 300 against Leicestershire which isn’t the greatest county.”