Kevin Pietersen: Self-belief and ambition knows no boundary

England's South African-born batsman is determined to make his name in Zimbabwe
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The Independent Online

England careers have got off to better starts. But I suppose Bell, Jones and Giles are easier to spell than Pietersen.

England careers have got off to better starts. But I suppose Bell, Jones and Giles are easier to spell than Pietersen.

This careless oversight by the makers of England's one-day shirts - they initially spelt it Pieterson - was spotted prior to Kevin being sent his kit, and the South African-born batsman had to wait until Monday before he got his hands on the shirt he has single-mindedly worked towards wearing since he left the country of his birth to pursue a career in England four years ago.

Though trivial, a mistake like this would be enough to dent the confidence of some England cricketers, but Kevin Pietersen is not that type of guy. Self-belief is a quality that has never been lacking in the game of this talented and highly motivated 24-year-old.

Views of Pietersen vary considerably. Nobody doubts his ability, but to many in county cricket he is perceived as arrogant. It is a description he is aware of and after spending an hour in his company, before England set off on their one-day tour of Namibia and Zimbabwe, I could not work out whether this is the case, or that he is an ambitious man who will allow nothing to stop him achieving what he wants in the game.

This includes Zimbabwe. Many members of England's 14-man squad will have spent the last few weeks worrying about the consequences of their visit to this region of Southern Africa, but Pietersen was not one of them.

"I am not fussed about the politics," he told me at the National Academy at Loughborough. "I have been to Zimbabwe before when I was playing for Natal and I just want to go there and play cricket.

"I see it as an opportunity that has been given to me and it is not often that you are given the chance to play international cricket. When I was presented with my England blazer last week I could not stop smiling. It was brilliant to see it hanging up at my home. There are hundreds of players who play county or state cricket and they don't get a sniff of wearing an England, Australian or West Indies blazer.

"I see this tour as a stepping stone for me. I intend to grab the opportunity and then put my hand up for further selection, then further selection."

Pietersen's South African upbringing is the reason why his views differ from those of his team-mates, and while the majority of South Africans would not agree with what is taking place in Zimbabwe, there is nowhere near the same strength of feeling.

Pietersen left Durban to try his hand in England at the age of 20 because he felt the quota system would prevent him from realising an ambition - to become an international cricketer. At the time, the United Cricket Board of South Africa stipulated that a certain number of black players had to play in every team and this was keeping him out of the Natal side when he felt he should have been playing.

"Leaving South Africa was the biggest decision I have ever made," he admitted. "I was 20 at the time and I had to leave my family and friends behind in Durban. I had been to England once but I did not have a clue about the currency and everything else that was going on.

"As a kid I had always supported England because it is where my mother is from and she ruled the roost. My hero was Rob Andrew and during the 1995 World Cup in South Africa I used to wear an England rugby shirt.

"I copped a lot of flak for this but nothing like the flak I received when I first arrived here. Wherever I played I was being abused for being a South African. Opponents would say that they had never met a decent South African, that I wasn't good enough and they accused me of coming over here and stealing their money. My first game in England was a friendly against Derbyshire, and we all know what Dominic Cork is like when he starts to carry on.

"I used to walk out to bat, knowing I was on my own. But playing cricket was all I wanted to do. I couldn't handle sitting in an office all day. I wanted to be outside, playing sport and coming to England allowed me to try and fulfil my ambition, which was to become an international cricketer."

Although there were dark times, Pietersen never once considered returning home. At the start of his second season in England the South African selectors attempted to lure him back but he declined the offer. In his mind he had made a commitment and it was something he was not going to go back on.

By then the right-hander was beginning to show how talented he was. Pietersen is huge for a batsman - he is 6ft 4in tall - and this allows him to impose himself on his opponents before he starts depositing the ball in all corners of the ground.

I witnessed just how destructive he could be when Nottinghamshire played Middlesex at Lord's in 2001. The Middlesex attack - from which I was absent with an injury - were aware of his potential, but there was little we could do to stop him.

Pietersen was awesome. The combination of a sound technique and frightening power made him impossible to bowl at. He scored an unbeaten 165 in the first innings - containing two sixes and 22 fours - and 65 not out off 47 balls in the second.

Paul Johnson, the former Nottinghamshire batsman, played in the match. "He told me what he was going to do the day before," he said. "He told me he was going to score his first first-class hundred for Notts and he went out there and did it. Some people would see this as arrogance, but it showed his quality. When someone with his ability makes his mind up to do something, it will take something special from the opposition to prevent it happening."

Pietersen's ability to destroy county attacks immediately caught the eye of England's selectors, who picked him for the National Academy in the winter of 2003-04 even though he was a year away from being eligible for the full side. He was cleared to play in September and was immediately selected for England's tour of Zimbabwe.

After scoring 24 hundreds and more than 8,000 runs in four years of cricket Pietersen has every reason to feel confident about how he will fare on the biggest stage. "I definitely feel I am ready to play international cricket," he added. "But I will not just settle for selection here. My aim is to play at this level for a long time and to be the best possible player I can be. I have always said that I want to be one of the best batsmen going. I won't say I want to be the best because you get freaks like Tendulkar. But I want to be up there.

"I want to be like Michael Vaughan - one of those blokes who a bowler like Brett Lee worries about bowling at."

He may well get the opportunity during next summer's Ashes series.

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