Kevin Pietersen: I've been OK over the last 12 months. I want to be one of the best players in the world over the next 10 years'

Brian Viner Interviews
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The Independent Online

It is 13 months since I first interviewed Kevin Pietersen, 13 months in which his life has changed. Remarkable as it now seems, when I sat down with him in a waterfront bar in Southampton in May 2005, it was uncertain whether he would be part of England's effort to recapture the Ashes. Despite his one-day heroics in South Africa the previous winter, he had started the season in lacklustre form for Hampshire. I reminded him that his county captain and close friend Shane Warne had said that maybe England should choose some young batsmen unused to being dominated by Australia. "Yeah," said Pietersen, wistfully. "But Warney's not an England selector, is he?"

Wistfulness plays no part in a conversation with Pietersen today. Indeed, it is interesting - and ever so slightly dispiriting - to examine the differences between his demeanour 13 months ago and his demeanour now.

Then, he talked openly, engagingly, expansively. He seemed keen that I should go away satisfied with what was on my tape recorder. He was brash, but I liked him. This time, he is surly. Superstardom appears to have turned the appealing brashness into arrogance. He has also cultivated that affectation particular to self-absorbed sportsmen, of referring to himself in the third person.

Still, who cares what Pietersen is like when he bats like a god? If it is self-absorption that has already catapulted him to fifth in the all-time list of six-hitters for England - fifth and rising - then let him have more of it. And in fairness, maybe he is just having a bad day. He has lent his name to a computer game called International Cricket Captain 2006, and is therefore obliged to attend a media presentation at Lord's, followed by a series of one-on-one interviews. I have no doubt that he is being paid handsomely for his time, but it cannot be much fun for someone who plainly wants to be somewhere, possibly anywhere, else. Indeed, he provides an unintentionally comic moment after the guy who conceived International Cricket Captain has talked at tremendous length about what a fantastic game it is. "Have you played it, Kevin?" someone asks. "No," he says.

When it is my turn to be closeted with him, I ask him to quantify the explosion of media interest in him since we last met. "Loads, just loads," he says. "Since that innings [his epic, match-saving, Ashes-winning knock of 158 at the Oval last September] my life has totally turned upside down. Now, there's a load of people worrying about Kevin Pietersen, what he gets up to, how he does stuff, when he does stuff, where he goes. It's incredible. They want to know what clothes I buy, where I eat, what night-clubs I go to, about my girlfriend [the Liberty X singer Jessica Taylor]. It's ridiculous. But it's been OK. You just have to manage it, tolerate it, go through it. It's become a way of life, and there's no point harping on about negatives. I've got to think of the positives."

One of the positives, I suppose, is being paid to endorse products such as computer games, whether he plays them or not. Inevitably, such commercial distractions have been cited as one reason for England's cricketers being a less redoubtable force this summer than they were last. Bluntly, it is said that they have become weighed down by the trappings of fame and success. But that does not apply to Pietersen. If he is weighed down by anything, it is jewellery, with which he is festooned, and which includes a vast crucifix.

Back in Pietmaritzburg, his parents, Jannie and Penny, raised him and his three brothers to say grace at every meal, and to go to church every Sunday. They also encouraged an intensely competitive family ethos; indeed it was his belief in firm but fair competition that made him turn his back on South African cricket, in protest at the post-apartheid racial quota system that insisted on a certain number of players "of colour" in every team.

South Africa's loss has been England's spectacular gain, and whatever deleterious effect the trappings of fame and success might have had on others, they did not stop Pietersen scoring 158 in the first Test against Sri Lanka, and 142 in the second. A century in the third Test at Trent Bridge would have made him the first Englishman in history to score hundreds in four successive Tests on home soil. He is already one of only six England players - and only 12 Test batsmen in total - to register three successive home centuries. Even Mike Brearley, not a man given to hyperbole, has referred to the "genius" of Pietersen's potential.

"Yeah, I've heard that word 'genius'," he says when I bring up Brearley's observation. "People are saying Viv Richards this, Viv Richards that. But I don't want to be the next Viv Richards, I just want to be Kevin Pietersen, the best Kevin Pietersen can be. I've been OK over the last 12 months, but I want to be one of the best players in the world over the next 10 years, maybe do a bit more bowling, and contribute to a successful England team."

The portents are good. In the three Tests against Sri Lanka his series aggregate of 360 was almost double the next man's, Marcus Trescothick's tally of 188. And if there was a single definitive stroke, it came at Edgbaston when he reverse-swept Muttiah Muralitharan for a massive six, a shot that had all the old sweats in the press box practically reaching for the smelling salts. I ask him what his thought processes were, both before and after the shot?

A glimmer of a smile. "The previous over I'd hit Murali over mid-off, then he bowled me the wrong 'un and I cut him for four. He then pushed mid-off back three-quarters of the way to the boundary. He'd also cut off long-on, he'd cut off midwicket, he'd cut off deep square leg, so anything in that arc was at risk of being caught. I was on 130 or whatever and just fancied hitting boundaries, so I had to decide where I was going to get them. I saw there was no man from deep point to the boundary, so I thought, why not? I'd played that shot a few times messing around in the nets, so I thought I might as well have a go. If it was his off-spinner and I missed it I'd make sure my body was in the way; if it was his wrong'un then I'd back myself to hit it.

"As it happened the ball was full and I just slapped it, and it went a lot further than I thought it would. But I didn't think it would create that much attention. If you watch the replays then you see that straight after that shot I look up to the sightscreen and try to move a bloke out of the way, some bloke who was walking across. I was just thinking about the next ball."

Such is cricket; only the next ball matters, not the last one or the next-but-one. The same is true of matches, which is why the next Ashes series lurks only vaguely at the back of Pietersen's mind.

"First we have the one-dayers against Sri Lanka, then a tough series here against Pakistan, then we go to India. But I wouldn't say that I never think about the Ashes at all. It's definitely there, and I sometimes think 'crikey, we've got that coming up at the end of the year'. Warney has said to me that it's going to be the biggest occasion in our lives. You can see from the ticket sales that it's going to be massive."

Warne, he adds, is still his role model: "He's thoughtful, innovative, never scared to try something new, and he has complete confidence in himself." Which might, I venture, be a description of himself. "Yeah, I don't doubt myself either. I came over here from South Africa [to play for Nottinghamshire] with no family or friends around me, and I had to back myself through everything." Surely there are some areas of life in which he nurses some self-doubt? He thinks for a moment. "No, if I doubt myself then I just don't do it."

The PC game International cricket Captain 2006 by Explosiv, costs £19.99 and goes on sale today