Places on line as Pietersen lurks
Captain Alastair Cook believes the spectre of Kevin Pietersen's return will create healthy competition in England's batting line-up during the second Investec Test against New Zealand.
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Pietersen is currently on the sidelines with a troublesome knee injury that will also keep him out of next month's Champions Trophy, but England are confident the batsman will be back in time for the Ashes.
That means one of the current incumbents - probably Jonny Bairstow but possibly Nick Compton - would have to give way.
Cook accepts that there is no realistic chance of England overlooking a fit Pietersen, meaning tomorrow's Test at Headingley is the final chance for the unestablished players to press their case.
"I think we all know when hopefully Kevin comes back and he's fit, his record and his class pretty much demands that he plays for England," said Cook.
"His record allows him to do that. So of course that creates competition for places and the guys in the changing room will be desperate to score runs. That's good for us in this game because we need as many runs as we can.
"If any batter scores runs it's very hard to leave him out. That's how selection works.
"I don't think it will give them any extra motivation because I don't think you need any extra motivation when you're playing for England...but we all know that's the situation."
Cook was also able to offer a brief update on Pietersen's rehabilitation.
He added: "Kevin's progressing well from his injury. There is obviously some more information coming over the next couple of weeks but chatting to him last week at Lord's he sounded positive, and it's fingers crossed.
"With injuries you're not quite sure how they're healing but it sounded as if he was making good progress."
England go into the match 1-0 up in a two-game series and looking for another victory to weigh against three draws in the reverse series earlier this year.
And while Cook is clear that the entire team are focused on New Zealand and nobody else, he laughed off suggestions that team director Andy Flower had placed a ban on any talk of Australia.
"We've got to make it quite clear the word ('Ashes') has not been banned in the changing room," he said. "It's just very important as a sports team and us as cricketers that you stay in the present, that's how you have to live your life.
"We know what's coming up in the summer, we know how exciting it is to play in an Ashes series, but that's when that comes. We have to focus on this game and these five days now. We all know that's how you have to operate, in the here and now."
Cook also moved to ease any external pressure on his opening partner Compton.
Despite two centuries in New Zealand there is a feeling he has yet to cement his place at the top of the order and the manner of his dismissal at Lord's hinted at a player not in full control of his game.
The shadow of Joe Root - a natural opener - in the middle order grows longer by the match as the 22-year-old Yorkshireman continues to excel.
Cook acknowledges Root will one day move up the order, but believes Compton is in the side on merit.
"Rooty has always opened the batting, so he sees himself as an opener," said Cook.
"He's been given his chance in a different position and I think anyone would say that you're prepared to bat anywhere to play for England.
"I'm sure down the line, at some stage in the future, of course you will see Joe Root opening the batting, because that's where he bats, but Compo's got the shirt at the moment and he fully justifies that selection.
"I think Nick has forced his way in with the amount of runs he scored at Somerset, and we've had some really good starts at the top of the order."
Teams for the second Investec Test between England and New Zealand at Headingley, starting on Friday at 11am:
England (from): AN Cook (Captain), NRD Compton, IJL Trott, IR Bell, JE Root, JM Bairstow, MJ Prior (wkt), SCJ Broad, GP Swann, ST Finn, JM Anderson, TT Bresnan.
New Zealand: B McCullum (Captain), P Fulton, H Rutherford, K Williamson, R Taylor, D Brownlie, T Southee, N Wagner, B Martin, T Boult, D Bracewell.
Umpires: S Davis (Aus), M Erasmus (SA)
Third umpire: A Dar (Pak)
Match referee: D Boon (Aus)