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Rarely has all the talk in the build-up to a Test been dominated by a man who will not be playing in the match. Yet England's dramatic decision to drop Kevin Pietersen from the third Test at Lord's starting Thursday, allegedly over text messages he sent to South African players during the drawn second Test at Headingley, has inevitably put the focus on their absent star batsman.
The South Africa-born shotmaker averages nearly 50 in Tests and made a superb 149 at Headingley, where he drove South Africa fast bowler Dale Steyn back over his head for six. By contrast Jonathan Bairstow, the man who will replace Pietersen, was dropped after playing his first three Tests against the West Indies earlier this season and has an average of under 13 with a top score of 18.
Yet England have decided there are bigger issues than the possible loss of their world No.1 Test ranking, which they will surrender to South Africa unless they win at Lord's.
Bairstow struggled with the short ball against the West Indies a fact sure to have been noted by Steyn and fellow fast bowler Morne Morkel, even if the Yorkshireman arrives at Lord's on the back of 139 for the England Lions against Australia A.
Fast-medium bowler Tim Bresnan did his best to stick up for county colleague Bairstow by suggesting England could be an improved side without Pietersen. "It may be an even better side, it's one of those things where a talented player is being replaced by another talented player," Bresnan said.
But even those closest to Bairstow might struggle to believe that ó at least for the time being. There were reports late on Tuesday that Pietersen and the England hierarchy were close to resolving their differences ahead of Saturday's squad announcement for the World Twenty20 in Sri Lanka next month but any 'peace deal' will come too late for the third Test.
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