A whole new ball game for Pietersen as Harmison returns

Stephen BensonContributor IAugust 21, 2008

Success may have come instantly for new England cricket captain Kevin Pietersen in the test arena, but the one-day international series with South Africa, which starts with a day-nighter at Headingley Carnegie tomorrow promises to be a whole new ball-game. In contrast to their dead rubber defeat at the hands of King Kev's new England in the 4th test, the Springboks will be hungry to make their tour of England perfect by taking this series home along with the test spoils.

Make no mistake, England are coming from much further behind in this form of the game than they were at the start of the 4th test match at The Oval. Since their re-admittance to the world cricket scene in 1992, South Africahas won 22 of the 34 completed ODI matches played against England.

England’s problems in ODI’s have been manifold. But scoring runs and taking wickets neatly sums up most of them. Can Pietersen’s inspirational new broom sweep clean again and urge England onwards to new glories? Plainly, it's too early to say, but the signs are that he will be as much his own man as he was in his one test match as captain. His stamp has already been put onto this team with the news that Owais Shah will move up the order from no. 6 to 3 with Pietersen himself moving back to his lynch pin spot at no.4. with KP avowing that Shah is 'wasted down the order'. This means that the opening berths will be taken by Ian Bell and returning wicket-keeper Matt Prior.

But the big news is the return of fast-bowler Steve Harmison to the ODI arena for his first appearance since the ICC Champions Trophy of 2006 after which he retired. Ryan Sidebottom’s continuing injury problems and subsequent withdrawal have created a gap for the Durhamspeedster and the persuasive powers of King Kev have worked on Harmison himself, as well as the Englandselectors, to get him back. It seems that Pietersen’s avowed intention to attack is for real. But is this a wise move? Whilst Harmison is a former world no.1 in tests and it was easy to imagine a successful return there, he’s never been remotely close to that status in the shorter form. Only time will tell.

It is also a boon to Pietersen that Andrew Flintoff is back to play his first big ODI since the Autumn of 2007. But even with these players fit, available and playing, Englandhave been nothing short of average as a ODI team for a long time now. If Pietersen can reverse recent history and prevail in this series, then English supporters will really start to believe in him as an alchemical captain, and not just as their best and most entertaining batsman. The hard work really does start now for KP, but as ever with him, it will make for interesting viewing.