Vol. 5 Num 1022 Tue. April 17, 2007  

ICC World Cup 2007
KP has all to play for

When England's Kevin Pietersen bats against South Africa in a crucial World Cup Super Eights match here on Tuesday, he will be short of neither motivation nor confidence.

That the explosive middle-order batsman reserves his best against the country of his birth can be gauged from the fact he averages 151.33 against South Africa, and 56.55 overall.

South Africa suffered from Pietersen's punishing blade in a home series in 2005 when the England batsman overcame a hostile crowd to hammer 454 runs in seven matches with three centuries.

He is currently in tremendous nick, having slammed England's only century in the ongoing tournament against defending champions Australia in a Super Eights game.

England hope he continues in the same vein in a match they need to win to sustain their hopes of qualifying for the semifinals.

If South Africa win, they will be in the last four.

But lurking beneath the surface is a bitter relationship between Pietersen, who was condemned as an opportunist when he decided to qualify for England after protesting against the quota system in South Africa, and Proteas skipper Graeme Smith.

The two have been engaged in a torrid war of words for two years.

"I think everyone knows we don't get on for whatever reasons, but that's gone. It's not about myself, Smith, Andre Nel or Michael Vaughan on Tuesday, it's about producing a big team performance," said Pietersen.

"I wouldn't say that it is the game that matters to me more than the others because the match against Australia is big as well, but it's an important game for me and I look forward to it.

"It's going to be a big game with a lot of needle. I don't know why there is needle between the two sides other than there are some really world-class players on both the sides."

Smith was furious when Pietersen switched allegiances.

"I'm patriotic about my country, and that's why I don't like Kevin Pietersen -- the only reason that Kevin and I have never had a relationship is because he slated South Africa," Smith has said in the past.

Pietersen described Smith as a "muppet" and added: "I don't talk to Smith. It's a waste of breath because I don't have any respect for him."

The controversial Pietersen on Monday tried to diffuse a potential explosive situation.

"I saw Smith in India and I saw him in the World Series and we said hello," said the 26-year-old.

An interesting tussle is on the cards when in-form Pietersen faces a quality South African pace attack, comprising Shaun Pollock and Makhaya Ntini, on a pitch having pace and bounce.

Pietersen has the technique and temperament to play a long innings on any surface, having the shots to demoralise any attack when in flow. He has already played a big role in England's Ashes series win over Australia at home in 2005.

South Africa will like to see the back of Pietersen as early as possible because they will be under pressure if he stays longer at the crease. They are aware he can alter the course of the match in a few overs with his big-hitting.

Pietersen is England's leading scorer in this tournament with 341 runs in seven matches. He has so far scored 1,923 runs in 49 one-day internationals with four centuries, including three against South Africa.