Home fires burn for Pietersen
Kevin Pietersen is hoping to end a difficult year on a “special” note for himself and England when he plays Test cricket for the first time on what was once his home ground.
Pietersen began 2009 by losing the England captaincy, endured four months out after an Achilles operation - while the Ashes were being regained - and has only just battled back to his true form.
But after innings of 40 and 81 as England scraped a draw in the first Test of four against South Africa at Centurion, a Boxing Day return to Kingsmead may come at just the right time for the Pietermaritzburg-born batsman.
“You could say 2009 hasn’t been the most fantastic time, but I’m still playing cricket for England,” said Pietersen.
“We all love playing for England and are very privileged. It’s true 2009 hasn’t been fun. But hey ho - life isn’t always good.”
Pietersen has proved a willing assistant to new captain Andrew Strauss, and it would be fitting indeed if he could close the calendar with a star contribution back at the ground where he grew up watching cricket and then began his professional career.
“My family are all here, and it’s something that is special,” he said. “Playing England in South Africa is something I love and enjoy.”
Pietersen’s Christmas wish, though - irrespective of his own contribution - is that England produce the goods to go 1-0 up in the four-match series.
“It’s not all about me playing in Durban; it’s about the team coming here and doing special things,” he insisted.
“We want to do special things here. We fought off a hungry South Africa attack in the first Test and hope we can do some good things this week.”
Neither does Pietersen prize his own Test runs any more highly in Durban than elsewhere.
“I love getting Test runs at the Oval; I love getting Test runs at Lord’s; I love getting Test runs anywhere - anywhere you can do it, I don’t mind,” he said. “Here is absolutely no different.”
He has had to work hard to get his game back on track at the highest level, after spending so much time on the sidelines.
But in the light of SuperSport Park, Pietersen is confident it has paid off - and satisfied too that England have the ability to beat hosts who have only just narrowly been knocked off the top of the Test rankings.
“I’ve worked a lot on my technique to get it back to where I was. I feel pretty good now,” the 29-year-old said. “I truly believe we can win the series.
“I think we’ve got the attack to bowl South Africa out and I do believe we can score runs against them as well. As long as we’re consistent, I think we’ve got a great chance.
“I thought we were fantastic in the first Test match, the way we went about our business and the strength of character that we showed.
“The boys are really fired up and want to keep the momentum going from the Ashes - not like in 2005.”
Back then, England failed to follow up victory over Australia with a winning winter on the subcontinent, drawing 1-1 with India and losing 2-0 to Pakistan.
If Pietersen can help put that right this time, it will be a cherished chapter in a career which began in earnest when he left his homeland to seek his fortune in England.
Pietersen reflected on a decade which was immediately preceded by him playing against England - with distinction - for KwaZulu-Natal at Kingsmead.
He said: “It is incredible. But life changes; these things happen. My life has turned around in a big, big way - from running around here as a kid to where I am now.
“I love it; I would never change anything. We’re all privileged to be out here playing Test cricket for England.
“I just see every day as a challenge. To be back playing Test cricket is something I love doing and something I’m very fortunate to be doing.
“It’s not something I take for granted. No-one in the team does, and we all fight together and believe we need to keep ourselves grounded.”