Kevin Pietersen out of final Test
Kevin Pietersen will miss the final Test against New Zealand with a knee injury which may also sideline him from the return series in England.
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Pietersen faces a "six-to-eight-week" rehabilitation period at best, and he and his advisers have already accepted he will therefore be absent as well from his planned Indian Premier League campaign with the Delhi Daredevils next month.
An England and Wales Cricket Board statement revealed that Pietersen, who has been complaining of pain in his right knee since before the start of the ongoing three-Test series against the Kiwis, may have "possible cartilage damage".
The 32-year-old made a glorious return for England, after his summer of discontent and 'reintegration' in 2012, with a match-winning century in Mumbai on the way to a historic series success in India.
He has had less success with the bat in two drawn Tests in New Zealand this month, but did make a battling half-century in Wellington last week and will be seen as a pivotal presence in England's year of back-to-back Ashes and a home Champions Trophy.
Even the most optimistic reading of his injury prognosis gives him the tightest of schedules, however, to return in time for the first of two Tests against the Kiwis in May.
Today's ECB statement reads: "England and Surrey batsman Kevin Pietersen has been ruled out of the remaining Test against New Zealand commencing Friday March 22 due to an injury to his right knee.
"Pietersen experienced knee pain while fielding in preparation for the four-day game in Queenstown earlier this month, before the Test series. This has failed to resolve satisfactorily."
The ECB has neither ruled in nor out the possibility of surgery - should the initial timetable of recovery prove optimistic.
Any operation would, of course, compromise Pietersen's likely availability for both the mid-summer Champions Trophy and the Ashes beyond.
"Recent scans confirm an injury to the right knee, with bone bruising and possible cartilage damage to the kneecap," the statement added.
"Pietersen will return to the UK for further investigations and specialist review.
"The injury is likely to require ongoing assessments and a likely six-to-eight week period of rest and rehabilitation.
"Pietersen has therefore been withdrawn from all cricket, including the Indian Premier League."
Pietersen was due to meet up with the Daredevils after the tour of New Zealand, for the lucrative IPL season.
He is the second England player to fly out early from the New Zealand tour after an elbow injury forced spinner Graeme Swann home.
Swann also aggravated his long-standing problem during the match at Queenstown and underwent successful surgery in the United States last week.
He is expected to return in time for the Champions Trophy in June.
England's immediate concern will, however, be how to replace Pietersen for the final Test - starting in Auckland on Friday, with the series still 0-0 after two rain-affected stalemates.
Jonny Bairstow is the only available specialist batsman who can step in.
The young Yorkshireman has not played a Test since featuring in that series-levelling win in Mumbai in November, but made 95 and 54 as a replacement for Pietersen against South Africa at Lord's last August.
That was at the height of the South Africa-born batsman's disagreements with management and team-mates.
England must hope he does not end up missing even higher-profile occasions this summer, for very different reasons.
Teams for the third Test between England and New Zealand at Eden Park,Auckland, starting Thursday at 2130 GMT:
England (from): AN Cook (capt), NRD Compton, IJL Trott, IR Bell, JE Root, MJ Prior (wkt), SCJ Broad, ST Finn, JM Anderson, MS Panesar, CR Woakes, JC Tredwell, JM Bairstow.
New Zealand (from): B McCullum (capt), P Fulton, H Rutherford, K Williamson, R Taylor, D Brownlie, BJ Watling (wkt), N Wagner, T Southee, T Boult, B Martin, D Bracewell, I Butler.
Umpires: P Reiffel (Aus) and R Tucker (Aus).
Third umpire: A Rauf (Pak).
Match referee: R Mahanama (SL).