The England and Wales Cricket Board’s reasons for barring Kevin Pietersen’s return to the national team were undermined when Ian Bell said he had not witnessed any breakdown in trust between the exiled batsman and his England teammates.
It also became clear that Alastair Cook, the captain, was the major obstacle to Pietersen’s return.
Bell, the first England player to comment on director of cricket Andrew Strauss’s decision to blackball Pietersen on the grounds that the ECB did not trust him, said Pietersen was the best batsman he had played with, and was right to feel aggrieved. Bell said there were no problems between Pietersen and other England players, and that he ‘did not know’ whether there had been disputes ‘behind closed doors’.
But according to a report in the Daily Telegraph in London, what has been going on behind closed doors is that it was Cook who barred Pietersen’s return by threatening to resign as captain. Cook is understood to have told the ECB of his position during the recent tour to the West Indies, at which point the board’s stance on Pietersen shifted.
Cook cannot forgive Pietersen for the criticisms in his book and the personal attacks he received on Twitter from Pietersen’s supporters last summer, which reduced his wife Alice to tears.
When presented with a choice between Cook and Pietersen, the board chose what it felt would be the lesser of two public relations disasters. Opting for Pietersen over Cook would have toppled a captain, and many at the ECB believe it would be unfair to throw Joe Root into an Ashes summer.
Yorkshire batsman Adam Lyth is set to make his debut next week when he opens the batting alongside Cook.
The 27-year-old was selected on his first senior England tour last month but did not feature in the drawn three Test series against West Indies. Durham pace bowler Mark Wood, who made his ODI debut against Ireland last week, is the only other player uncapped at Test level included in the squad.
The first of the two Tests week marks the 100th meeting between the two teams. The first series was played in New Zealand in 1930 and with England winning the four match series 1-0. The teams last met in a Test series in 2013 with England winning the two match series 2-0.
England squad: Alastair Cook (Essex, Capt), Moeen Ali (Worcestershire), James Anderson (Lancashire), Gary Ballance (Yorkshire), Ian Bell (Warwickshire), Stuart Broad (Nottinghamshire), Jos Buttler (Lancashire), Chris Jordan (Sussex), Adam Lyth (Yorkshire), Joe Root (Yorkshire), Ben Stokes (Durham), Mark Wood (Durham).