Alastair Cook believes Kevin Pietersen can be part of England's 2015 World Cup side and sees it as one of his key roles as captain on the tour of India to help guide a one-day revival for the batsman. Pietersen has returned to the squad for the upcoming series, but doubts remain over his long-term future in the 50-over side after a lean two years in the format and the emergence of talented young batsmen pushing their claims.
Pietersen was rested, officially at least, for the one-day series recent ODIs against India in England, and the two Twenty20 Internationals against West Indies that concluded the home season. His place in the Twenty20 team isn't in doubt - he played the game against India at the end of August and was Man of the Series when England won the world title in West Indies in 2010 - but that security doesn't extend to the longer limited-overs format.
"I see Kevin as a huge part of this one-day side, especially in the 2015 World Cup," Cook said at Heathrow airport shortly before the squad departed for India. "He's had huge success in Australia, but we need to manage him well so he can get there."
After he controversially flew home injured from the World Cup, reports emerged that he was planning to retire from ODIs although he subsequently denied those and remains available for all three formats. However, if there was a change of heart from Pietersen it is more likely to have been because he wouldn't have been eligible for a central contract if he quit one-dayers.
His availability, though, doesn't come with a guarantee of selection, as Andy Flower has been at pains to point out, and Pietersen's one-day form of the last two years raises questions as to whether he warrants a place in the side. Since March 2009 against West Indies, his first one-day series since losing the captaincy, he has averaged 22.86 from 32 matches with two half-centuries. His last hundred came against India, in Cuttack, in October 2008 and three of his seven tons came in his first 11 matches. However, he does average 51 in ODIs on Indian soil, which shows he enjoys conditions.
"He's had a tough 12-18 months with his form, this happens when you spend a huge amount of time at the top of the game. It's tough to keep your standards high," Cook said. "I think he still averages very high 40s in Test cricket, so it's amazing to think we are talking about a drop. His last couple of years in one-day cricket haven't been as good as they were in the first part of his career and part of our job as England management is to try and get him back there.
"A KP averaging 50 and striking over 100 is a huge element of an England side and we can't ignore talent like that. He loves proving people wrong."
England have tried various roles to reinvigorate Pietersen's one-day career including using him as an opener during the World Cup. That tactic was short-lived due to the hernia he picked up, but it did provide some momentum to England's innings alongside Andrew Strauss. A return to opening is unlikely with Cook and Craig Kieswetter establishing their partnership, but Pietersen's exact position in the order hasn't been nailed down with Cook hinting at flexibility.
"At No. 3 or 4 is where he's had most of his success," Cook said. "Towards the end of the Sri Lanka series (in June) we talked about being more flexible in our batting line up and we've got the right to do that."
The pressure on Pietersen to retain his place is coming mainly from his own form, but also the emergence of a group of new batsmen pushing for international honours. Jonny Bairstow, who impressed on his debut against India, is part of this tour, while Jos Buttler will join in for the Twenty20 at the end of trip along with Alex Hales. Eoin Morgan, who has taken the mantle of England's key one-day batsman from Pietersen, is out if action until January but will slot straight back in when he's fit and Cook is thrilled with the competition for places.
"You have to perform to stay in an England shirt; like Kevin has to, like I have to, the whole team has to," he said. "You can see from the players who aren't coming on this tour, the competition there is for places and that's a very encouraging sign."
England have two warm-up matches, the first on Saturday, before the opening One-Day International, in Hyderabad, on October 14.