KEVIN PIETERSEN’S Indian Premier League status is set to be clarified today as debate continues to rage over his future as an England player.
The two matters are not entirely unconnected, with Pietersen’s interest in the lucrative Twenty20 tournament frequently straining relations between himself and the England and Wales Cricket Board.
The issue was one of the catalysts for Pietersen’s shock limited-overs retirement in 2012 and, though he later reversed that decision, his entire England career is under the spotlight.
Reports from Australia this week suggested that team director Andy Flower wanted to call time on the 33-year-old’s international days, with the suggestion in some quarters that the Zimbabwean had delivered a ‘him or me’ ultimatum.
Flower responded quickly to dismiss those claims as “totally inaccurate” and called for a “calm and logical” assessment of the 5-0 Ashes whitewash before verdicts were reached on any player.
Conspicuous by its absence in the carefully-worded statement was any kind of public support of Pietersen.
With pundits lining up on both sides of the KP debate but no resolution seemingly imminent, that leaves the familiar bugbear of IPL as the next battleground.
ECB central contracts contain leeway for IPL participation, with a cut-off this year of May 13, but given the nature of their thrashing Down Under, England may prefer their leading players to shun the glamorous competition in favour of first-class cricket with their counties.
James Anderson, Stuart Broad and rising star Ben Stokes are thought to be receptive to that idea, but Pietersen is both a bigger draw and a bigger advocate of the IPL than his colleagues.
He has spoken passionately about the sporting benefits and is immensely popular in India, making it highly unlikely he would miss it in favour of some early-season four-day outings with Surrey.
Today, IPL franchises will announce their retained list with each side allowed to keep as many as five existing players.
Pietersen is affiliated with the Delhi Daredevils, who appreciate his marketing potential as much as his explosive batting, and if they choose to extend the relationship, he could miss five LV= County Championship fixtures for the Brown Caps.
Should, on the other hand, Pietersen’s name be absent from the retained list, it would open up the intriguing possibility of the 104-Test veteran withdrawing from the subsequent player auction and making a very public case for a place in England’s summer Test plans.
On paper, that would seem an outside bet – particularly given Pietersen’s indifference to the domestic game since making his Test debut in 2005.
But he has always been aware of the prestige attached to the highest form of the game and on Wednesday made a point of tweeting his commitment to regaining the Ashes urn in 2015.
Avoiding the IPL for a season would doubtless cause him a financial hit but would underline that commitment better than any amount of social networking.
His county employers, meanwhile, will be monitoring developments with interest.
Pietersen’s Surrey contract is linked directly to his ECB deal, automatically renewing when he re-signs and expiring when he does not.
Australia coach Darren Lehmann, meanwhile, is happy to sit back and let England rake over the mistakes of their 5-0 Ashes whitewash.
While Lehmann has been credited with fostering the contented environment that saw Australia turn around their fortunes so significantly this winter, England have dissolved into chaos.
The Flower-Lehmann topic is something Lehmann is unwilling to delve into. “I’m not going there to be perfectly honest,” said the former Yorkshire star. “That’s for them to work out. We’ve got enough to worry about getting ready for a one-day series here and then a Twenty20 series – the World Cup is a focus as well.
“The England team have got decisions to make. They’ll make them I’m sure.”
The five-match one-day international series begins in Melbourne on Sunday and while Lehmann will again take charge of Australia, Flower has returned to England before beginning his Ashes review, having ceded control of the limited overs teams to Ashley Giles just over a year ago.
Wicketkeeper Matt Prior, who lost his place behind the stumps during the Ashes, ended his forgettable tour as a hero.
Prior and team-mate Stuart Broad were returning from a function in Sydney on Tuesday night when they helped save a man from jumping from the Pyrmont Bridge.
The man had reportedly thrown his shoes, wallet and passport into the water with Prior describing him as “in a bad way”.
The act made news across Australia with Lehmann describing their life-saving efforts as “pretty special”.
In a frank assessment of performances Down Under, Prior suggested the players may have shown a lack of respect for captain Alastair Cook and team director Flower after allowing standards to slip.
The 31-year-old pinpointed problems such as turning up late for meetings and wearing the wrong uniform as reflective of a bigger issue.
“There are obvious straightforward cricketing reasons why we lost the Ashes in Australia but when assessing this defeat you have to look deeper,” said Prior. “It all goes back to the dressing room and making sure that environment is right and on this tour I think we let it slip a bit.
“We let a few things slide. They appear trivial issues to those on the outside, but they are important when building a team environment.”
Ashes man of the series Mitchell Johnson will be rested for the first one-day international in Melbourne but will return for the second game in Brisbane on January 17.