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Cricket | International

Absent Pietersen puts pressure on England batsmen

Kevin Pietersen remains a talking point, even when he's injured, and so it was that England captain Alastair Cook found himself being quizzed about the star batsman in Leeds on the eve of the second and final test against New Zealand at Headingley.

It was at Headingley last year that Pietersen scored a spectacular century against his native South Africa only to say that it was "difficult being me".

Soon afterwards Pietersen was dropped for sending texts critical of then England captain Andrew Strauss to South African players.

However, with Strauss retiring after England's series loss to the Proteas, Pietersen was back in the fold for the tour of India and scored a superb 186 at Mumbai in November.

But he is currently sidelined with a knee injury that will also rule him out of next month's Champions Trophy, although England are confident he will be fit in time for the Ashes.

England may have won the first of a two-test series against New Zealand by 170 runs at Lord's last week but their batting was one-paced and Strauss himself said the team were missing Pietersen's dynamic run-scoring ability.

It was a view endorsed by Cook at Headingley on Thursday, with Strauss's former opening partner saying Pietersen would return to the team when fit.

That puts the likes of Jonny Bairstow and, to a lesser extent, Nick Compton under pressure to do all they can to cement their place with a big score at Headingley – England's last test before their Ashes opener against Australia.

"I think we all know when hopefully Kevin comes back and he's fit, his record and his class pretty much demands that he plays for England," said Cook.

"His record allows him to do that. So of course that creates competition for places and the guys in the changing room will be desperate to score runs.

Cook added: "Kevin's progressing well from his injury. There is obviously some more information coming over the next couple of weeks but chatting to him last week at Lord's he sounded positive, and it's fingers crossed."

Cook insisted his side were focused on the job in hand but dismissed talk that England coach Andy Flower had barred the side from mentioning Australia.

"We've got to make it quite clear the word ('Ashes') has not been banned in the changing room," he said.

"It's just very important as a sports team and us as cricketers that you stay in the present, that's how you have to live your life."

Although opener Compton made two hundreds in New Zealand there is a sense, in some quarter, he is marking time until 22-year-old England rising star Joe Root, currently in the middle order but an opener with Yorkshire, is promoted to bat alongside Cook as part of a first-wicket test duo.

"I'm sure down the line, at some stage in the future, of course you will see Joe Root opening the batting, because that's where he bats, but Compo's got the shirt at the moment and he fully justifies that selection," Cook said.

"I think Nick has forced his way in with the amount of runs he scored at Somerset, and we've had some really good starts at the top of the order."


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