Eoin Morgan has attempted to end speculation surrounding the future of Kevin Pietersen by insisting the batsman, sacked by England last February, is not part of his plans as one-day captain.
Morgan, who took over from Alastair Cook last month, was responding to Pietersen's comments, made in a live TV interview with former Australia captain Ricky Ponting during Tuesday's Big Bash coverage, when he claimed the Irishman would "love" to have him back in England's 50-over team.
The pair are friends away from cricket and Morgan stopped short of saying the South African-born batsman would never play for England again under his tenure.
Yet he was emphatic enough to put paid to any slender hopes Pietersen may have held of having an outside chance of returning to England's World Cup squad as an injury replacement.
Speaking after the team travelled from Canberra to Sydney ahead of tomorrow’s opening match of the tri-series against Australia, Morgan said: “I think this is a good opportunity to clear things up given that Kevin has a lot of opportunity to talk in the media and get his point of view out there.
“I’m very happy with the group of players I have, I think this is the best group of players we have to drive the England team forward over the next two months in particular.
“Kevin’s situation hasn’t changed over the last year. It’s been reiterated over months and days. It was reiterated before Christmas by the chairman of selectors and I’m reiterating it again just to clear it up. Thank you.”
Morgan had confirmed earlier in the week that Pietersen had not been on the agenda when he discussed taking on the role of one-day captain with Peter Moores, England's coach, before Christmas.
Yet Pietersen was perhaps emboldened by comments Morgan made last October, when he said: “I think it is unbelievable in a way, because certainly he could still be playing cricket for England quite easily. It is sad in a way to think that probably the best cricketer I have ever played with is not playing [internationally] any more.
“A guy I have had huge respect for, for a very long time and learnt a huge amount from isn’t playing probably as much as he should be.”
England are keen for the Pietersen issue to go away as they attempt to train their focus on the tri-series against Australia and India and then the World Cup.
That explains the tetchy response from Morgan when asked if England would be a stronger side with Pietersen in it.
“I think that’s a terrible question,” he said. “Kevin is not in the side, he won’t be in the side for the foreseeable future, so there’s no point in answering that question.”
Morgan, though, did go on to say his team’s current batting line-up, which posted two 350-plus scores during their two warm-up matches in Canberra, is the strongest he has seen in his time as an England player.
“Certainly in an England shirt that I’ve played with, yeah,” he said. “The guys have unbelievable talent and when we perform to our potential we’re a dangerous side.”
Ian Bell underlined his qualities as a one-day opener when he scored 187 against a Prime Minister's XI at the Manuka Oval on Wednesday.
The innings, the highest by an England player in a 50-over match, justified the decision to hand the 32-year-old the opening position vacated by Cook ahead of the more dynamic Alex Hales.
“Ian is one of our most experienced cricketers, he’s a class act and he’s proved that over a very long period of time, particularly in Test cricket,” said Morgan.
“His experience over the next couple of months is going to be crucial to our success. So far he’s looked in great touch, yesterday was a perfect example.”
England made an imposing 391 for six against the PM's XI but only won by a 60-run margin thanks to some big hitting by Australia's Glenn Maxwell, who scored 136 from 89 balls, and some below-par bowling from an attack missing its leader in James Anderson.
Morgan admitted Anderson’s fitness is a concern but he is hopeful the 32-year-old, who is being carefully managed as he returns from a persistent knee injury, will face Australia at the SCG tomorrow.
He said: “He is the only concern. We decided he wouldn’t be able to play three games in a week and obviously the most important game is tomorrow.
“For him to be fit for selection he needed to up his workload in the nets and if he’d have played yesterday he wouldn’t have pulled up that well.
“Hopefully he’ll be fit for selection tomorrow and if not, it will be [England’s second tri-series game in] Brisbane.”