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"It's just backing my ability"
09 Jun 2006
By: Neil Pickup

It's a little more than 16 months since Kevin Pietersen made his huge front-foot stride into the International spotlight, emerging into the Johannesburg Bull Ring. Now, he's an irreplaceable cog in the England team unit, and a cricketing world without him seems unimaginably poorer.

There's only so much you can find out about one man, however, so when we met following the launch presentation for International Cricket Captain 2006, I was wondering just what I could ask that everyone in the country didn't already know anyway.

It turned out that, unsurprisingly, there weren't any revolutionary bombshells to be dropped. Since India, he's making a particular effort to go out and make three figures - on the subcontinent this winter, only one century brought accusations of throwing his wicket away, but this summer has yielded two already. The difference? The focus. Now it's not about just batting, it's about making a hundred.

Of course, that reverse sweep couldn't stay out of the conversation for particularly long. It's not often that Pietersen seems surprised by the attention lavished upon him by the media, but this single shot off Muralitharan breaks the norm. "All of my scoring options were cut off", explained the batsman, "I just saw it as a scoring option." It wasn't a spur-of-the-moment shot, either - he had checked the field, checked the risks - the worst that could happen, he argued, was that he'd be hit on the pads well outside the line of the stumps.

What about that technique? Where did the 'flamingo' shot come from? Courtyard cricket as a boy in South Africa - never formally coached, like that reverse sweep, it's just a scoring option. He's happy that his defence is solid enough, and despite the non-stop media attention every time he's dismissed following a big shot, we won't be seeing a change. The criticism of the ways he's been dismissed won't change anything either. "I've hit a six and then got out once or twice, but I've also hit plenty of sixes without getting out the next ball. It's just the way Kevin Pietersen plays." As for the criticism of himself and Andrew Flintoff batting together? It's "ridiculous".

With the one-day series against Sri Lanka on the horizon, and England's short-form spinning options limited - Ashley Giles missing, and Alex Loudon and Jamie Dalrymple without a cap between them - would Pietersen be prepared to provide a fifth, or sixth bowling option? Definitely. Having neglected his off-spin since moving to England, he's put more work in over the last six months, culminating in his two overs at Trent Bridge.

In his short career to date, he's faced two intense pressure situations - of course, the last day at the Oval, and his return to the Johannesburg Bull Ring. Which was the toughest? The Wanderers, without a doubt - Pietersen feels that pressure "can't get any worse" than that ODI - and he combated it by simply "concentrating on the white ball" - nothing else.

Do the 21st-century buzzwords of 'intimidatory batting' hold any truck with him? Is there a definitive attempt to unsettle the opposition? Not really. "It's just about backing my ability". There's no attempt to create an extra air of mystique or fear - perhaps this is due to being the sixth interview of the afternoon, but you can't help but admire the honesty. It's still about just being himself.

"Why must I change just because people recognise my face?" He's still going to go to the corner shop, smile and say hello. So how much had I learnt as the minute hand of the clock ticked around to the end of our meeting? Not quite that much - so it was time for my own reverse sweep off the last delivery. Blondes, Brunettes or Gingers? It took a little more thought than usual, but - after today's Daily Telegraph report that he's engaged to Liberty X singer Jessica Taylor, Pietersen again played his straight bat - "Brunettes."

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