- England v West Indies, 3rd Test, Edgbaston, 1st day
Gooch: There is life after Pietersen
Graham Gooch, England's batting coach, admitted that Kevin Pietersen's retirement from international limited-overs cricket has opened up a big hole at the top of the batting order, but insisted it is not so huge that it cannot be filled. Gooch, England's leading run-scorer in Test cricket, called Pietersen a "box-office player" but did not criticise the decision to step down from ODIs which has also led to the end of his international Twenty20 career.
"Kevin is a superb player for England in all forms of the game. He is a great entertainer," Gooch said. "He is a box-office player that excites the cricketing public not only in this country, but around the world. So before you ask me, is he going to be missed? Sure he is going to be missed. Any player who is capable of winning a match is going to be missed by a team. But he has to make his own decisions. He is the only one who would be able to give true insight into why he decided to retire from ODI cricket."
In a decision that caught everyone by surprise, Pietersen announced on May 31 that he was stepping away from ODI cricket (and, also, effectively Twenty20 as it is part of the ECB contract to be available for both formats) citing "the intensity of the international schedule and the increasing demands on my body," as one of the main reasons. Gooch did not want to be drawn into the issue of the schedules, which has become a talking point in the recent years with players deciding to give up one form of the game in order to extend their tenures in another version.
What Gooch, though, was certain about was England needed to move forward and there were good batsmen ready to fill in the vacancy left behind by Pietersen. "Life moves on, one door closes and another one opens. So you got to look at from the team point of view as an opportunity for someone else to make his mark, to represent his country, to win games for his country," he said. "I look it as an opportunity for another young player to grab that chance, to take that chance and achieve the highest honour of representing his country. I don't look back, I look forward."
Gooch, himself an opening batsman, was a supporter of Pietersen opening in the one-day game which began at last year's World Cup before resuming against Pakistan in the UAE where he struck back-to-back hundreds in, what ended up becoming, his final two ODIs. "I was always in favour of Kevin Pietersen opening the batting because I'm always in favour putting your best players in one-day and Twenty20 cricket top of the order; give them all the overs to make an impact," he said.
The England selectors will meet over the next few days to select the ODI squad to face West Indies and Gooch believes there are plenty of options on hand to replace Pietersen, picking out the likes of Craig Kieswetter, Jonny Bairstow and Jos Buttler. "The selectors will be meeting probably in the next day or so and formulating who they think is the best option upfront. We have got some exciting young players around: Kieswetter, Bairstow, Buttler are the guys who have been in and around the Lions and the one-day team. They are not new names, but are the guys I see taking England cricket forward over the next few years."
Kieswetter, who started his England career as an opener, was part of the last ODI series England played, in the UAE, but came in as a middle-order batsman after Pietersen's move to open. Buttler, a No.6 at Somerset, has played a solitary ODI (against Pakistan in UAE), but is known in the county arena for his innovative batting methods in Twenty20 cricket.
Bairstow, who has six ODI caps, made his Test debut against West Indies at Lord's but his fraught technique against the short delivery raised eyebrows about whether he was the right candidate to come in at No.6 in Tests. Gooch, one of the best players of fast bowling in the 1980s and 90s, said that it was too early to draw conclusions about Bairstow's technique.
"You don't judge a player on just a few good balls," he said. "I don't think there is any player that has ever played Test cricket hasn't punched one away in front of his face at some stage. Having been there myself, it is not a nice experience. You have to cope with that sort of bowling. I don't think you make judgements on just a short passage of play."
Gooch did not entirely agree with the theory that Bairstow had not faced the likes of Roach in county cricket but highlighted the pressurised surrounds of the international game as a key difference. "One thing that is not there in county cricket you don't get the tension you get in Test cricket, the feeling that you have to succeed because everyone is watching you and you are playing at the highest level. So the pressure is that much more at the highest level. That is something every top player, every top sportsman has to cope with: performing under pressure."
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo