Like the Sirocco, a warm wind blowing in from the south, Kevin Pietersen enthusiastically breezed in to his full day as England captain yesterday, confidently laying down his immediate vision for the team.
When speaking about his side and its prospects for today's fourth Test against South Africa Pietersen could not have been more upbeat, positive or decisive. As soon as he sat down at his first pre-Test press conference he informed the gathered throng that Stephen Harmison would be making his comeback at the expense of Ryan Sidebottom, Stuart Broad was back, Ian Bell would be batting at three, Paul Collingwood at five and Andrew Flintoff at six. It was wonderful stuff, a command performance. The trouble is, he will require particularly strong batteries to keep it up.
For this Test England, having already lost the series, have nothing to lose but the changes Pietersen and Peter Moores have instigated do signify a far more positive outlook. The pair seem very keen to place extra responsibility on their players. By picking Harmison (right) in a five-man bowling attack and batting Flintoff at six Pietersen has informed the South Africans that he wishes to take them on, and good on him for that.
"I am going to go in with four fast bowlers and Monty Panesar," said a confident Pietersen. "I think we need the extra bowler. It is a positive and aggressive move, its one that Peter Moores and I sing off the same hymn sheet on. It is a good start for us.
"This is Mooresy and my team. It has given the batters the responsibility to go out and get runs. Fred [Flintoff] will come in at six. I like him there, it is a positive move. Timmy [Ambrose] is at seven and [Stuart] Broad at eight, which is not a bad batting line-up. Fred is happy at six. I spoke to him and he said 'whatever you want to do, I'm there for you,' which is great from the big man.
"The thing we have to do is to get back to playing with a real amount of pride and passion, and to try and play with confidence and without fear. Playing without fear has been my recipe for success. I think fear had crept in to the side and that it was worrying about little things too much. My experiences have told me that the more you fear the more you think about stuff.
"I want them to be clear thinking, I want the players to express themselves once they step over that white line. I want my lads to trust their practice and do whatever they need to do to be successful. International cricket can roll in to day in, day out, train, play, train, play and I want the lads to have a passion, to get that pride back."
Moving Flintoff back to six is a bullish move. Players have a tendency to bat according to the position they are put in and it is to hoped that the faith Pietersen and Moores are showing in Flintoff brings the best out of him.
The decision to play five bowlers is positive too. Much has been made of England's inability to post a significant first innings total, and 231 was nowhere near enough at Edgbaston, but it was the fact Vaughan's side could not defend 280 that cost them the Test. It was this that hurt Vaughan more than being bowled out cheaply.
Selecting Harmison is a bold but understandable move too. It is not a coincidence that England were at their most potent under Vaughan when Harmison was firing in 2004 and 2005, and Pietersen is hoping that his leadership can bring the best out of him again. The next five days are make or break for Harmison. The 29-year-old has bowled well for Durham this season, taking 40 wickets in eight county championship matches. But the big challenge for him is getting things together with an England shirt on.
Harmison' s inconsistencies have been a huge frustration and he needs to impress both on and off the field here to show that he has the skill and desire to be involved in the England team next summer against Australia. His last Test appearance, against New Zealand in Hamilton, ended with Vaughan afraid to bowl him and he was subsequently dropped. Harmison's Test record in South London – 18 wickets at an average of 24 – is good. A pitch that historically offers pace and bounce will give a good indication of where his game is.
"Steve is buzzing, absolutely buzzing," said Pietersen. "He had a big smile on his face when I told him he was playing. I will give him the responsibility of taking the new ball for England. I am confident he can bowl with the new ball; he has been doing it for Durham. Let's hope he does a great job. I back him. I hope I can press the buttons that get Harmy firing. If he can bowl as he did in the nets he is back properly. There is a lot of trust between us. I am going to place some responsibility on him and the big man will deliver for us."
Graeme Smith followed Pietersen and listening to the South African captain was an uncanny experience. It was as though Smith had been sat at the back of the room listening to Pietersen because he depicted the England captain's state of mind perfectly.
"He's got a once-off Test match against us," said Smith. "He will obviously be hugely motivated, excited, nervous and have a lot of energy. But captaincy is about sustaining it after that. The decisions he makes with his team will need to be sustained for a period of time. It is easy to make one-off decisions and it doesn't really matter what happens in this Test match.
"It is six months' time when you have gone through that process, you have carried your team to that level, the brand of cricket you want to play and the management of those players. That's when it starts to show. He has always been a very single-minded player. That is the way he plays, he backs his ability and a lot of the time it comes off because he has become a really top-class cricketer. It's going to be interesting now that he has been thrown a lot of curve balls. As captain you have to have an open mind, there are so many things that challenge you; it is not only about your own performance. That is going to be his challenge.
"We want to end the series well and when I am holding up the trophy at the end it would be nice for it to be 3-0 with us having played really well at the Oval."
Teams for the fourth Test at the Oval
K P Pietersen (Hampshire, capt)
A N Cook (Essex)
A J Strauss (Middlesex)
I R Bell (Warwickshire)
P D Collingwood (Durham)
A Flintoff (Lancashire)
T R Ambrose (Warwickshire, wkt)
S C Broad (Nottinghamshire)
S J Harmison (Durham)
J M Anderson (Lancashire)
M S Panesar (Northamptonshire)
G C Smith (capt), N D McKenzie, H M Amla, J H Kallis, A G Prince, A B de Villiers, MV Boucher (wkt), P L Harris, M Morkel, A Nel, M Ntini.
*Umpires Aleem Dar (Pak) & S J Davis (Aus).
*3rd Umpire P J Hartley
*Match referee Ranjan Madugalle (S Lanka)
The good, the bad and the ugly: The fast bowler who has thrilled ... and infuriated
3 best moments
v West Indies, first Test, Kingston, 2004
Harmison highlighted his true potential as a fast bowler when he ripped through the West Indies batting line-up in the second innings, taking the remarkable figures of 7 for 12.
v Australia, first Test, Lord's, 2005
England needed to make an impression early in the Ashes series and Harmison did just that on the first morning, hitting Justin Langer, Matthew Hayden and Ricky Ponting in a hostile spell. He ended up with 5 for 43.
v Pakistan, second Test, Old Trafford, 2006
A tall fast bowler loves a bouncy pitch and Manchester offered Harmison just such conditions as he ended up with the outstanding match figures of 11 for76.
...and 3 shockers
v Australia, first Test, Brisbane, 2006
With the eyes of the cricket world eagerly watching, England needed to start the 2006-07 Ashes with a bang. Harmison was trusted with the first ball of the series, which, unforgettably, he bowled straight at Andrew Flintoff at second slip.
v Australia, third Test Perth, 2002
Nothing is worse for a bowler than losing your run-up and Harmison did just that at the Waca during the 2002-03 Ashes. To watch him stutter to the crease was a painful experience but, to his credit, he fought through it pretty well.
v West Indies, third Test, Old Trafford, 2007
Harmison got it horribly wrong on a fast, bouncy pitch bowling countless wides. Allan Donald, the England bowling coach, said Harmison was shaking when he came off the pitch. Harmison told Donald he was scared to let go of the ball.Reuse content