Joe Drabble looks at which England players are in the frame to replace Kevin Pietersen against New Zealand.
By Joe Drabble - Twitter: @SkySportsDrabs. Last Updated: 18/04/13 9:28am
England have suffered their first injury blow ahead of a huge summer with the ECB confirming that Kevin Pietersen will miss the upcoming two-Test series with New Zealand due to a knee injury.
England struggled without their talismanic No 4 during the final Test of the reverse series with the Black Caps in Auckland back in March, where only a heroic unbeaten century from Matt Prior prevented a defeat.
Ian Bell stepped up at No 4 on that occasion and will be favourite to do so once again when New Zealand and England clash at Lord's and Headingley next month.
But, with back-to-back Ashes series looming large, is it time for England to give a more inexperienced batsman the chance to shine against the Kiwis?
Below we look at other contenders for the vacant No 4 position.
Jonny Bairstow (Tests 6, Inns 9, Runs 205, Av 25.62)
The England management have made no secret of their admiration for the young Yorkshireman, who burst on to the international scene with some eye-catching performances in one-day cricket. Pietersen's well-documented text message faux pas with the South Africans last summer presented Bairstow with the opportunity to shine against messrs Steyn, Morkel, Philander and Kallis at Lord's, where he proved he has the ability and temperament to succeed in the Test format with scores of 95 and 54. That said, he has predominantly been deployed at No 6 for England and would appear likely to remain there against the New Zealanders.
Joe Root (Tests 4, Inns 7, Runs 181, Av 30.16)
Elevated to the No 5 position for the most recent Test match against New Zealand, Root has mainly established himself at the top of the order with county Yorkshire. The 22-year-old right-hander averages just over 30 in his four Test matches to-date, of which none have been played on home soil. With Alastair Cook, Nick Compton and Jonathan Trott seemingly inked in from positions one to three, England may look for a more attacking option at four. Could well be a future option to promote him, though.
Matt Prior (Tests 65, Inns 97, Runs 3,637, Av 45.46)
Slightly left-field, and highly unlikely, but could Prior do a job at No 4? And what's more, would he like to? The old saying 'if it aint broke don't fix it' may well apply with Prior averaging 45.46 from predominantly No 7 in the order but there is a strong case for the Sussex man to leap up the order now he is in the form of his life. Alongside Pietersen and Bell, Prior is one of England's most fluent strokemakers and may revel in a higher role. A promotion would also allow the likes of Root and Bairstow to ease their way into Test cricket from lower down the order.
Eoin Morgan (Tests 16, Inns 24, Runs 700, Av 30.43)
Regarded by many as a one-day specialist, Morgan has dropped off England's Test radar in recent times and has not played in the longest format since the side's 3-0 series defeat against Pakistan in the Middle East in 2012. At present he lacks the first-class runs to justify a recall but is proving in the ongoing Indian Premier League what a class act he is in white-ball cricket. Has two Test centuries to his name, one of which was scored at No 5 in the order against India at Edgbaston.
Ravi Bopara (Tests 13, Inns 19, Runs 575, Av 31.94)
More chances than a game of Monopoly but a stack of county runs to his name could force the England selectors into recalling Bopara once again. He remains an integral one-day player and was named in England's Performance squad for 2013. Bopara started the county season with Essex in solid fashion with a half-century against Gloucestershire in the first round of matches and has three more LV= County Championship fixtures to stake his claim before England's first Test against New Zealand gets under way.
Varun Chopra (5,645 first-class runs, Av 36.41)
Another player who will be hoping county runs are rewarded with Test recognition is Warwickshire batsman Chopra. The 25-year-old was one of only two Englishmen to pass 1,000 first-class runs last summer - Nick Compton the other - and as a result was named in England's Performance Programme squad for the winter just gone. The right-hander has started the 2013 county season in a similar vein with a half-century against Derbyshire and, with former Warwickshire head coach Ashley Giles now heavily involved in the England set-up, a Test cap may not be too long in coming.
James Taylor (Tests 2, Inns 3, Runs 48, Av 16)
The diminutive Nottinghamshire batsman has fallen down the Test pecking order of late but as captain of the England Lions, is still held in high regard by the national selectors. Taylor posted scores of 34, 10 and four in the final two Tests of last summer against South Africa but was overlooked for winter trips to India and New Zealand. Bats at No 4 for his county and looks destined for a bright international future, but there appear more likely candidates at present.