The question will be answered today when England's selectors name a Test squad to travel to India, either with or without Kevin Pietersen.
There is no doubt the presence of their most gifted batsman will be a major advantage in an otherwise inexperienced line-up's pursuit of the totals needed to be competitive in four Tests on the sub-continent. That fact will not be lost on new captain Alastair Cook. It is perhaps instructive as well that, when Pietersen was falling out with so many of his team mates – as well as coach Andy Flower and former captain Andrew Strauss – Cook's name was never to the fore. That distance appears to be a telling factor for those prepared to stake their reputations on predictions that Pietersen will be welcomed back into the fold.
A welcome is what it must be too. Flower and Cook will know there can be no half-measures. Either Pietersen has satisfied the concerns over his behaviour and has served his time by missing the imminent defence of England's ICC World Twenty20 crown or he most definitely has not.
Flower and Strauss were at pains, as they tried to wring out a confession and apology from Pietersen over the content of "provocative" text messages he sent to opposition players during the Headingley Test against his native South Africa, that this was a situation with no quick-fix solution. He could not simply waltz back into England's Test plans, as he clearly felt he would in his contrite interview on the eve of his de-selection for the Lord's Test.
First, he must convince that he has seen the error of his ways; second, there must be an appropriate passage of time. Mutual respect and trust is a non-negotiable starting point and finish line with Flower; it was with Strauss, and surely Cook, too. These are men who do not appear to easily make allowances or exceptions for prodigals or mavericks – not unless they are met at least halfway, at any rate. Pietersen blatantly failed to do any such thing over the past six months, so if wriggle room does enter the equation for Flower it will be on the triplicate assurance that the renegade stays in line from now on.
It will all come out in the wash today but there are other calls which will help to define careers as well as impact England's prospects in India.
Strauss' retirement leaves a void at the top of the order, and Pietersen's presence or otherwise will determine whether England need to promote or recall one or two batsmen. Eoin Morgan, the fall guy of England's 3-0 defeat against Pakistan last winter, received a central contract this month and many expect him to return in the middle order, where Ravi Bopara would be a gamble.
At the top of most lists as potential openers are young Yorkshireman Joe Root, the remodelled and prolific Nick Compton, now of Somerset, and the widely-travelled Michael Carberry. The suspicion is that Root needs more time; Carberry has one Test on his cv, alongside Cook in Bangladesh, where he fared acceptably. But after his splendid summer, Compton may sneak the vote.
In any case, England are also about to announce a Performance Programme squad who will travel to India for their own itinerary. Their proximity, should reinforcements be required, gives the selectors an insurance policy in all departments.
Therefore, whoever makes either squad – Pietersen could yet be invited back via the second string – may still notionally be in the reckoning to face India in what promises to be an especially tough examination of England's credentials.
Possible England Test squad, v India AN Cook (Captain), IJL Trott, IR Bell, KP Pietersen, JWA Taylor, JM Bairstow, MJ Prior (wkt), SCJ Broad, GP Swann, ST Finn, JM Anderson, TT Bresnan, G Onions, SR Patel, NRD Compton, EJG Morgan.