Pietersen laughs off dissenting voices
Kevin Pietersen spoke to the press after a fitness session in the gym
Kevin Pietersen will be happy to carry on playing the pantomime villain for South African crowds - because it makes him laugh.
It is also likely to mean England’s mercurial batsman will be making important runs against the country of his birth in the forthcoming four-Test series.
Pietersen, still searching for a first big score since his return from four months out following Achilles surgery, is finding it a tough challenge to regain his best form.
But one thing the 29-year-old is entirely unconcerned about is the occasionally raucous receptions from partisan home crowds as he makes his way out to bat.
The boos and whistles were especially notable before and after his short innings in England’s one-day international victory over their hosts in Port Elizabeth.
But he said: “(Australia captain Ricky) Ponting gets abused in England; (South Africa skipper Graeme) Smith gets it in England; I get it here; many players get it all over the world.”
Pietersen has no problem that reactions reserved for the best players in the world are coming his way.
“It’s something you just have to deal with, and I don’t mind it at all,” he insisted.
“I find it quite amusing really. Of course you hear it. But some players, it gets them going. It certainly does with me.”
The complicating factor for Pietersen is he decided to leave his native country and instead seek an international career with England.
That proved an astute move - in five years of Test cricket so far, he averages almost 50 - but appears to be one that still rankles with some South Africans.
Pietersen has no regrets. “I take it as a compliment,” he said. “They don’t want you out there playing; they want to try to get you off your guard. I seem to enjoy it.
“I hope everybody just respects the good cricket both teams play, and respects a good sportsman. That’s all you can ask for.”
Pietersen’s hope is he can continue to keep the hecklers in full voice - by making big runs - but he is not finding it easy to re-attune himself to the demands of cricket at the highest level.
“It’s tough when you come back after a long injury - mentally and physically,” he explained.
“It’s quite difficult and I’m finding it quite hard but I’m doing everything that I can to try to get myself back to where I used to be.”
Several England cricketers of recent vintage have gone through similar experiences with injury - notably former captain Michael Vaughan and all-rounder Andrew Flintoff - and Pietersen reports he has had a lot of support and advice on how to make a successful return.
“People who’ve gone through this, had injuries and come back, have sent me good text messages - saying, ‘it takes time’, and ‘just don’t put pressure on yourself’.
“You’ve just got to go out there and do the hard work, which will eventually pay off. I’m not shy of hard work - and I’ve been putting in some really, really long hours.”
Pietersen’s situation has not been helped by the awful weather that has followed England around in South Africa, washing out two one-day internationals and robbing them of important practice.
“It’s really frustrating with this weather," he said. “But I’m not going to put too much pressure on myself to perform straightaway, because I know it’s simply just not going to happen like that.
"I’ve got to wait and wait and wait - and hope it comes round soon.”
The stakes are high for hosts who have just been knocked off the top of the world rankings by India, and tourists buoyed by last summer’s Ashes victory and determined not to repeat the mistakes of five years ago when they followed a long overdue victory over Australia with defeat in Pakistan.
“Both teams know how big this tour is going to be and we have to understand we’re going to have to play really good cricket to win the series,” Pietersen added.
“The confidence is good but we’re also not going to take our foot off the gas. We know that, post-Ashes 2005, we took our foot off the gas and things did not go according to plan.
“There were injuries to big players in the squad but all our injuries appear to be under control at the moment, which is great news.”
England are well led by captain Andrew Strauss and coach Andy Flower, and there is also good news of senior fast bowler James Anderson’s knee trouble, which appears to be under control, despite another injection over the weekend.
“Both Andys are keeping us on our toes and we just want to continue where the boys left off at the Oval,” said Pietersen.
“I had dinner with Jimmy last night and he said he’s going to be absolutely fine, so I don’t see a single problem with him.”