Strauss predicts Pietersen 'special'

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Kevin Pietersen

Kevin Pietersen practises ahead of the second Test, when his captain expects him to produce "something special"

Andrew Strauss senses some vintage Kevin Pietersen may be on the way for England in time for the Boxing Day Test against South Africa.

There were signs from Pietersen in the drawn first Test at Centurion that he may be approaching his best form again.

The mercurial South Africa-born batsman struggled for runs in the early stages of England's tour as he sought to re-establish himself in international cricket after four months out following Achilles surgery.

Back at Kingsmead - what was once his home ground - this week for the second Test of four, Pietersen insists there will be no unique added incentive to make a big score.

But it will be no surprise to his captain if England's most destructive batsman makes a decisive contribution.

Asked about the significance of Pietersen's return and the likely favourable consequences for England, Strauss said: “I think his life has moved on a long way from when he was here as a youngster.

"But he might have a little bit more of a point to prove, as he often does in South Africa.

"The way he batted in Centurion, I'm quite confident he's got something special for us this week."

If Strauss has no concerns with Pietersen’s form, he and team director Andy Flower must decide whether England's Centurion recipe of just four specialist bowlers will fit the bill for Durban.

The situation is complicated by the fact that Ian Bell, England's extra batsman in the first Test, contributed only seven runs in two innings.

England had to cling on grimly to deny South Africa victory, with just one wicket remaining, last Sunday - and Strauss knows improvement is essential.

"We weren't at our best at Centurion," he admitted. "We did a lot of good things but maybe weren't quite as clinical as we should have been. There are definitely things for us to work on.

Andrew Strauss & Andy Flower

Andrew Strauss and coach Andy Flower contemplate the balance of the England side, having played six specialist batsmen in the draw at Centurion

"I'm not feeling despondent about how we played, because there was enough to be positive about, and I'm very encouraged by the fact we got through it.

"It always gives people a bit of a lift that you got through a tough time and came out the other side. That puts us in a pretty good frame of mind for this game."

England were largely chasing the game last week but did counter-attack to great effect mid-match.

"You've got to take those opportunities - be good enough to overcome their resistance," Strauss added.

"If you put yourself in those positions often enough, at some stage the opposition will fold.

"In some ways, it was important we had six batsmen at Centurion. But it put some pressure on our bowlers as well. We're very mindful of picking the right side for the conditions here.

"Sometimes you're looking into the crystal ball a little bit because you're not entirely sure how the wicket is going to play and what conditions will be later on in the match."

Long before then, Strauss must get another balancing act right - between allowing himself and his team to enjoy Christmas Day with their families but also ensuring they are mentally prepared for a tough Test.

"It's the day before a Test match, so you've got to be pretty switched on to what you're going to be doing," he said.

"In the afternoon it will be time to relax. Especially when you've got kids, it is possible to switch into the festive spirit for a while. But, come the evening, you've got to switch back on to Test mode.

"It's probably not the ideal way to spend Christmas. But as long as everyone has a good time and is still ready to go on Boxing Day then I hope we can get the best out of it."

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