Ashes blow for England as Pietersen is ruled out

ENGLAND&rsquo;S sky-high hopes of reclaiming the Ashes plummeted yesterday when star batsman Kevin Pietersen was ruled out of the rest of the series.<br /><br />The decision came after the Hampshire player underwent surgery on a long-standing Achilles injury that deteriorated during the first two Tests against Australia.<br /><br />Pietersen, who will be sidelined for six weeks, had the operation immediately after seeking advice from a leading specialist yesterday.<br /><br />His absence comes as a major blow to England, who were in buoyant mood after taking a 1-0 lead in the series with victory in the second Test at Lord&rsquo;s on Monday.<br /><br />&ldquo;As an England cricketer the Ashes are the pinnacle of the game so I&rsquo;m absolutely devastated to be missing the rest of this series,&rdquo; said Pietersen.<br /><br />&ldquo;Up until now the Achilles injury has been manageable but it recently reached the point where we needed to look at other options in terms of treatment. To leave a winning dressing room at this time is heartbreaking but it wouldn&rsquo;t be fair to the team or myself to continue given the severity of the injury.&rdquo;<br /><br />All-rounder Andrew Flintoff, who is also a major injury doubt for the rest of the Ashes, admitted the news on Pietersen was a huge setback.<br /><br />&ldquo;Kevin is a massively influential player for our team. He is our best player so it is going to make it that little bit tougher for us,&rdquo; said Flintoff.<br /><br />Warwickshire&rsquo;s Ian Bell is the favourite to replace Pietersen at No4 in the batting order, although Middlesex&rsquo;s Owais Shah could also be in the frame. England selectors are due to name their squad for next week&rsquo;s third Test at the weekend. <br /><br />Pietersen, who has also been suffering from a back problem, first experienced the Achilles problem earlier this year. In May he was forced to miss the one-day series against West Indies but had hoped a regime of rest and cortisone injections would enable him to play a full part in the Ashes.<br /><br />The South Africa-born player featured in the drawn first Test in Cardiff and then the historic triumph at Lord&rsquo;s &ndash; England&rsquo;s first against Australia at the home of cricket for 75 years. But the injury hampered his normally cavalier approach and Pietersen admitted it was only getting worse. &ldquo;Unfortunately the injury has recently deteriorated,&rdquo; he added. &ldquo;But now I&rsquo;m confident I can return injury-free following a course of rehabilitation.&rdquo;<br /><br />Seamer James Anderson, meanwhile, is optimistic Flintoff&rsquo;s knee will not prevent him from playing in the third Test. He said: &ldquo;We have got a week&rsquo;s rest now so hopefully he can put his feet up and be fit for a week on Thursday.&rdquo;