A few months ago if I had started my column with the declaration that “the return of Kevin Pietersen will bring nothing but embarrassment to the England selectors” you might have, quite reasonably, laughed in my face.
He has said this week that he will be fully fit sooner than expected and that he is sure he will be ready for the Ashes.
Oh, dear. I can almost hear Geoff Miller, the national selector and an old friend of mine, sighing. Miller is a laconic, terse and very much to-the-point man from Chesterfield where there is a crooked spire and a county pitch which, until a few years ago gave batsmen nightmares.
They say nature hates a vacuum and so, when Pietersen flew home injured this spring, Joe Root had hinted by his one-day form — average 80, strike rate 80 — that he was a Test-level batsman.
Not least of all this summer Root has set the cricket circuit talking about the possibility of 1,000 runs by the end of May, a feat which Nick Compton missed by just one day a year ago. He still got his England chance and proved he deserved it.
Root is special, like his Yorkshire ancestors, the immortal Herbert Sutcliffe, the great Len Hutton, the unshakeable Geoff Boycott and that mix of elegance and determination Michael Vaughan. That is exalted company but Root already deserves to be added to these elite players.
Then the powerhouse Jonny Bairstow put his name forward and the chances of Miller getting a good night’s sleep vanished.
Of course England cannot ignore Pietersen. He has the volume of runs, the records, the strength and the ability to scare bowlers and fielders. In addition he has the experience to select the type of innings he wants to play as he walks from pavilion to crease.
He is one of the three best batsmen in the world — alongside Michael Clarke, who has serious back trouble and the elderly Jacques Kallis — although he is also one on his own: too sure of himself, impetuous, a poor starter, a ferocious hitter and so tall at 6ft 4in that he can play forward to balls no other batsman could reach and look down on the average bouncer with a sneer.
These are abilities not given to many batsmen and England — and particularly that cool and calm Miller — cannot possibly rush Root and Bairstow forward into the place KP has filled with such distinction.
Even though Australia, as usual shouting loudly that it will shock England in the two Ashes series which follow one another this summer and next winter, is likely to send over the weakest squad in living memory. England must respect its fighting spirit and turn out the finest possible sides. No room for experimentation during an Ashes series.
The Aussie has yet to be born who will give an Englishman an inch; rather he will ask for a foot and steal a yard and laugh all the way to the victory ceremony afterwards.
So Miller must exhibit better judgement than the workmen who put up that faulty twisted church tower in Chesterfield and pick the teams strictly on merit.
That seems to mean Pietersen and Root will both play in the Ashes series this summer and that Bairstow will spend a lot of time mixing drinks, rushing to the middle with towels and clapping loudly whenever KP or Root hits a century.
He is going to be a busy cricketer but not in the action-filled way he would like. Still, as his dad would have said, “that’s sport, son, so just learn to live with it”.