New Delhi, May 31: Kevin Pietersen is key to English success, says Australian spin great Shane Warne. Australia will reclaim the Ashes against all odds if Kevin Pietersen's knee injury keeps the England batsman out of the series, Warne told a tlevision channel.
England hold the Ashes after a convincing 3-1 away series win in 2010-11 and Australia's chances of wresting it back do not look bright following their recent 4-0 drubbing in India.
However, "if Kevin Pietersen's not available for the Ashes I think Australia will win," Australian Warne told Sky Sports news.
"Everyone feeds off him. He's such a destructive player," Warne added of his former Hampshire team mate.
England completed a 2-0 test victory over New Zealand this week to signal the kind of form they are in but the leg-spin great warned the Australians, led by Michael Clarke, were quite capable of pulling off a surprise.
"England are definitely favourites," said Warne. They've been playing some excellent cricket, and they're well led by Alastair Cook.
"But I really believe Australia have a squad, if they pick the right players and they perform then, I think the people who are out there writing them off could really be surprised."
Pietersen will not play in next month's Champions Trophy one day tournament but is expected back for the Ashes series starting in July.
Meanwhile, Pietersen, who has spent the last nine weeks recovering from an injury to his right knee, batted at the nets for 23 minutes.
He then had a brief chat with coach Andy Flower before going off with him and Giles for a lengthier discussion, re-emerging later to do five minutes of gentle catching practice in front of the Lord's pavilion with Craig De Weymarn, the team physiotherapist.
With six weeks before the first Test at Trent Bridge, he needs to show Flower that he can get through at least two first-class matches before the team is announced in early July.
Some runs would be handy too, though Pietersen's reluctance to treat seriously matches that are neither internationals nor money-spinners means they are not guaranteed.
"It is great news for English cricket to have him back practising again," said England captain Alastair Cook on Thursday. "Things are looking good on that front."
All his bowlers took part in Thursday's practice, including Jade Dernbach, brought into the squad as cover for Tim Bresnan, whose wife is expected to give birth during the three-match series.
Although England have not quite banned talk of the Champions Trophy, Cook said their focus was on winning this series. While other teams can experiment in their warm-up games ahead of the ICC-run tournament, Cook says he will play the team he expects to win the game, though that did not discount changing the combination.
Cook, who has passed 40 only once in one-day internationals at Lord's, also modelled the team's new one-day kit, an all-red ensemble that, if nothing else, should brighten the gloomiest day.
England have played in red before, most notably against Australia in 2009 when they were beaten 6-1, ironically the last home series they lost.