Birmingham, England: Kevin Pietersen has been told to find himself a new county by next season or risk jeopardising his England central contract. But England coach Andy Flower says it won't worry him if Pietersen's domestic cricket future is unresolved by the time the side head off to Australia for an Ashes defence starting in November.
Pietersen has made it clear he intends to leave Hampshire at the end of the current English season in September - a move that has led the south coast club to refuse to pick him twice when available.
The South Africa-born batsman has said he wants to play for a county nearer his Chelsea home in south-west London, suggesting a move to either one of capital clubs Middlesex or Surrey.
But whether any county would want Pietersen on their books, given how little they would see of him should he remain an England regular, is a moot point. Pietersen's situation has also raised the prospect of him becoming the first 'freelance' England Test cricketer.
Pietersen has gone more than a year without a Test century, although he did make 80 in England's nine-wicket win over Pakistan that gave them a 2-0 lead in their four-match series here on Monday.
Former South Africa all-rounder Clive Rice, who helped kickstart Pietersen's career in England with Nottinghamshire, has voiced concerns that without a county the 30-year-old will have nowhere to regain form should he suffer a major dip at international level.
England made Pietersen available for the domestic Twenty20 finals day where Hampshire will be playing at their Rose Bowl home ground on Saturday. But Hampshire, as was the case with a 40-over match last month, rapidly made it clear they had no interest in picking Pietersen.
"I wouldn't be overly concerned if he hasn't sorted out his county situation by the time we get under way in Australia," Flower told reporters here Tuesday. "But I think the ECB (England and Wales Cricket Board) policy will be that all of our international players must be contracted to a county."
As for Hampshire's refusal to select Pietersen for a match that takes place in the middle of a Test series that resumes at The Oval, Surrey's headquarters, in a week on Wednesday, Flower said: "It doesn't worry me. I expected Hampshire to maintain their position that they didn't want to pick him.
"Considering it was only a 40-over game leading up to the Test series and again this is only 20-over cricket this weekend, I don't think it is worth creating any issue over it."
Meanwhile, Flower was heartened by the way Pietersen, dropped three times, grafted for runs under overcast, swing-friendly skies and on a pitch of variable pace at Edgbaston.
"They were tricky conditions to bat in the first innings," he said. "I quite enjoyed watching Pietersen battle for his runs and get 80 in a small total. That was very good for him and obviously good for the team.
"The fact that he was dropped a few times shouldn't detract from the innings," former Zimbabwe batsman Flower insisted. "He got 80 in a difficult situation and worked extremely hard for those runs."
Hampshire chairman Rod Bransgrove, explaining the decision to omit Pietersen for the Twenty20 finals day, said: "The players who have got us to this point have made their county and everyone associated with the club very proud. We would, therefore, like to stand by them. We wish Kevin and England all the very best for the future and all their forthcoming internationals."
And Pietersen, in a post on social networking site Twitter, said: "I fully understand Hampshire's position in not selecting me for finals day. "I wish them all the best on the day."