IPL issue resurfaces for Pietersen

Hampshire Chronicle: Kevin Pietersen endured a tough time in Australia with his England team-mates Kevin Pietersen endured a tough time in Australia with his England team-mates

Kevin Pietersen's Indian Premier League status is set to be clarified on Friday 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 now under the spotlight.

Reports from Australia this week suggested 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 - or even mention - 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 now 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.

On Friday, IPL franchises will announce their retained list for the forthcoming campaign, with each side allowed to keep as many as five existing players.

Pietersen is currently 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.

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