Kevin Pietersen has let it be known that he does not believe in destiny. He is the master of his soul and the captain, not just of England's cricket team, but of his fate. "I've had more good days than bad days in my career...[but] it's no surprise that I keep improving because I wake up every morning trying to get better," he tells inquiring reporters at The Oval.
When the 28-year-old woke up yesterday morning the sun was shining but the forecast was for rain and plenty of it. Pietersen was on the field for 80 minutes or so and it was difficult to judge whether he had actually got better yesterday, but he was definitely as we had found him earlier – enthusiastic and focused
He began on the attack, as he said he would. In Steve Harmison's first over, the slip cordon was reinforced after only two balls, one of which took the edge, while the other took off in the direction of the wicketkeeper Tim Ambrose's head. The move almost worked; the last ball of the over had slips three and four diving headlong, feeling forthe catch.
Pietersen's customary station is at mid-off. He is not a still, elegant presence, except when he goes into a semi-crouch as the ball is delivered. He puts his hands on his hips or crosses his arms, or rests his elbow in his palm when he is looking thoughtful. A piece of imperfect fielding causes him to tweak the peak of his cap.
The most consistent movement is the clapping of his hands. This captain is an action man, filling in the hole left by footmarks, chatting to the bowler about field changes, moving a gully two feet to his right.
The only question he had to answer as captain was how long to bowl Harmison and Anderson before bringing on the second wave of seamers. There was no question of bowling Monty Panesar because there was still enough bounce in the wicket to embarrass Neil McKenzie and Hashim Amla, who rode his luck with real panache while McKenzie sank his anchor.
Pietersen let the opening salvo last for 50 minutes but the breakthrough would not come. It did so, perhaps to Pietersen's surprise, when a good delivery from Stuart Broad cannoned off the inside edge of McKenzie's bat and flattened his middle stump. It turned out to be the only wicket of the day. Pietersen expressed his satisfaction by giving Broad a friendly smack on his bottom – which is not particularly broad for a seam bowler – as he moved to his mark.
But by now Amla was scoring freely and Pietersen decided that discretion was the better part of valour. When Flintoff bowled to the South Africa No 3 the attacking cordon had been reduced to a slip and a gully, with one more slip when Jacques Kallis was facing the bowling. Reckless he was not.
His problem is that England's future will not depend on Pietersen waking up in the morning with the intention of getting better. His colleagues will need to get better too, and that is a harder job for a captain than setting the right field and changing the bowlers at the right time. Pietersen's exuberance is an attractive quality but he will have to be capable of exhibiting it in bad times for the team as well as himself.
Andre Nel calls Pietersen "Ego" when he is at the crease. Now he is Captain Ego, and the potential problem with a self-absorbed cricketer is that he might wake up one morning and decide that the best way to get better is to do something else, somewhere else. There is no question about the enthusiasm and the focus. The commitment may be a different matter.