Paul Downton
Downton leaves the ECB after just 14 months as managing director. Getty Images

Kevin Pietersen may just have moved one step closer to a return to the international fold with the England and Wales Cricket Board announcing the departure of managing director Paul Downton.

Downton, who joined the ECB as a replacement for Hugh Morris in February 2014, has seen his role removed from the governing body's structure in changes confirmed in a press release issued on 8 April.

The ECB are now seeking a suitable candidate to take up the position of Director of England Cricket following a difficult year that culminated in a dreadful group stage exit at the recent World Cup.

"The England Cricket Department needs to deliver performance at the highest level and our structure needs to be accountable for reaching the standards we aspire to. The new role we are putting in place will deliver an environment where world class performance is at the heart of everything we do, " incoming chief executive Tom Harrison said.

"Paul is a man of great integrity who has worked extremely hard to make a difference at the ECB. He joined at a very difficult time, but under his leadership the Test team have made significant strides. We thank him for his hard work, drive and determination and wish him every success for the future.

"The touring team in the West Indies are aware of the changes. The process for appointing the new role, with sole responsibility for the England set-up, will begin immediately."

Downton's departure is a potentially significant event in the ongoing saga involving Pietersen.

The maverick batsman, who was sacked by England in February 2014 following a disastrous Ashes whitewash in Australia, has received words of encouragement from new ECB chairman Colin Graves in recent weeks and is set to return to play domestic cricket for Surrey in a bid to win back his place in the England set-up.

His notably poor relationship with Downton, whom he heavily criticised in his controversial autobiography, was widely seen as one of the biggest hurdles to any potential return.

England are currently in the Caribbean for a three-test series against the West Indies. The first match is due to take place in Antigua next week, with Alastair Cook's side currently winning a warm-up game against a St Kitts Invitational XI.