KP is back. But will he get a hero's welcome?

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

As England's biggest talent (and ego) arrives in South Africa, Stephen Brenkley gauges the mood of the dressing room, from a side that won the Ashes without him

The Brylcreem Boy flies in today. It will not quite be the return of the conquering hero. Kevin Pietersen will arrive largely unheralded at OR Tambo International airport in Johannesburg – though should his latest sponsors insist upon slicked-down hair it may may well turn a few heads – to be met by a liaison officer and whisked to the England team's hotel.



There, apart from a visit or two to the gym to enhance his recently reacquired fitness (don't spoil the hair Kev), he will spend the next day kicking his heels waiting for his colleagues to arrive from their business in Bloemfontein. When team and star player are eventually reunited he may find that things have changed, that in his absence they have moved on.

England still need Pietersen's runs and his outrageous methods of making them but in the last four months the team have demonstrated that they can do without him. It may be to the ultimate benefit of both parties. The rest of the side now recognise they can truly perform and have a terracotta urn containing the Ashes and a Champions Trophy semi-final place to prove it.

Pietersen himself may feel somewhat unburdened and although he has always paid generous lip service to the team ethos in the past, there has always been the suspicion – because it was based on reality – that if he did not do it they might not. Equally some players are transformed by Pietersen at the other end and Paul Collingwood, for instance, looks a better batsman with Pietersen around.

As the off-spinning all-rounder Graeme Swann put it yesterday: "It's exciting for us that he's coming back, and, you never know, he might have to fight for his place." Swann was being typically jocular but it was a joke imbued with a certain seriousness. The top-of-the-bill act has not been indispensable.

Swann, who has visibly grown into an international cricketer of stature while Pietersen has been away, said: "Kev's Kev, he's a massive personality and a massive player. He's got to be good for the team from a playing perspective because he is one of the best players in the world.

"I don't think this squad is sitting there desperately hoping that other people turn up because we're all getting on well, we've got a really positive outlook, and we've had some really good performances. So Kev is just going to add to that, I don't think it's going to change it."

There is no question that he will immediately reclaim his places in the one-day and Test sides. This is a man who averages closer to 50 than 40 in two forms of the game – Tests and one-day internationals – and is the leading run scorer in Twenty20. Only two England players have scored more runs after 54 Test matches than Pietersen and they were Jack Hobbs and Len Hutton, legends of the game. Sometimes statistics tell far from the whole story, of course, and Pietersen will soon know there is more to life in a cricket dressing room than the supply of runs. It is about friendship and the team.

South Africa, the land of his birth, is where it all started for him just over four years ago. Thrust into the one-day series for which England were hopelessly ill-equipped, he scored three hundreds and a 75 in his five matches in front of hostile crowds and never looked back.

This will again be a complicated tour for him. Until January this year he was captain of this team and the decision to remove him from office after the schism between himself and coach Peter Moores hurt deeply. He concealed his bitterness well and went back to the ranks. If anything, he tried a wee bit too hard.

His return has provoked claims that he may not be the batsman he was, and that there were signs of decline before the Achilles injury which forced him to miss the last three Ashes Tests and 12 one-day matches. It is said that bowlers had at last found his vulnerability around off stump and it is true that he was not quite scoring with the unfettered freedom of yore. But it was still advisable to get him early or pay the full price and his overall figures stood up remarkably well. Any diminution of powers may be explained entirely by the debilitating effects of his chronic injury.

For months, almost from the first week of the Caribbean tour last January, he played in discomfort leading to pain. Injection followed injection and he declared his intention to play a full part in the Ashes series – a jolly good thing, it seemed at the time, because without him there seemed no way that England could prevail.

By the end of the second Test at Lord's against Australia it was perfectly obvious that he was in no fit state to continue. He limped out of the series and then his return was further delayed by an infection in the wound left by surgery. This has been a worrying time – he had played 54 consecutive Tests since his 2005 debut against Australia and is unaccustomed to being out of either crease or limelight.

It has taken until now for him to regain his fitness and so curtailed has that been that he did not have a bat in his hand again until last week, and was not able to leave with the rest of the squad 10 days ago. England, he may discover, are a different proposition. He might just have to readjust his dressing room settings.

As Swann said: "Whenever you lose one or two big players everyone else has got to step up to the plate and perform. Last summer they did. We can't be reliant on one or two players, it's unhealthy for the team, it's unhealthy for English cricket, and thankfully at the minute everyone is excelling in their own respective areas which is a more healthy state to be in."

There is the added challenge for Pietersen of playing in South Africa. Infamously, he left KwaZulu Natal for Nottinghamshire largely in protest at the quota system which positively promoted the prospects of black cricketers who had been previously disenfranchised in every sense.

He has, as they say, paid his dues to England since qualifying to play over four years ago with his prodigious batting contributions.

The feeling is that the South African crowds, fervently patriotic but sports mad, will have been won over and will respect his achievements. But the addition of Jonathan Trott, also South African-born, to the England team has muddied the waters again.

Morne Morkel, the exciting fast bowler, who will play for South Africa A in the warm-up Twenty20 match in Bloemfontein today and may well reclaim his Test place in the forthcoming series, said: "I think there are mixed feelings about the whole thing. From our point of view it's a career choice and well done to them for achieving England colours.

"I think it's tough for them touring South Africa and playing in front of their home crowds but it all adds to the fun of the game. There will be pressure on them."

Pietersen, in other words, may receive more barracking than he bargained for. Whatever the reception, he will be ready. He has always had goals and his fierce ambition will not have been reduced but heightened by his enforced break.

England will be different, Pietersen will be different and if everybody keeps their hair on, Brylcreemed or not, the tourists may prosper.

Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

Sport
Mario Balotelli, Divock Origi, Loic Remy, Wilfried Bony and Karim Benzema
transfersBony, Benzema and the other transfer targets
Sport
Yaya Touré has defended his posturing over his future at Manchester City
Voices
Spectators photograph the Tour de France riders as they make their way through the Yorkshire countryside
voicesHoward Jacobson: Line the streets for a cycling race? You might just as well watch a swarm of wasps
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
lifeHere's one answer to an inquisitive Reddit user's question
News
peopleDave Legeno, the actor who played werewolf Fenrir Greyback in the Harry Potter films, has died
News
Detail of the dress made entirely of loom bands
news
Life and Style
beauty
Sport
There were mass celebrations across Argentina as the country's national team reached their first World Cup final for 24 years
transfersOne of the men to suffer cardiac arrest was 16 years old
Arts and Entertainment
Armando Iannucci, the creator of 'The Thick of It' says he has
tvArmando Iannucci to concentrate on US show Veep
Sport
German supporters (left) and Argentina fans
world cup 2014Final gives England fans a choice between to old enemies
News
A mugshot of Ian Watkins released by South Wales Police following his guilty pleas
peopleBandmates open up about abuse
Sport
Basketball superstar LeBron James gets into his stride for the Cleveland Cavaliers
sportNBA superstar announces decision to return to Cleveland Cavaliers
Sport
Javier Mascherano of Argentina tackles Arjen Robben of the Netherlands as he attempts a shot
world cup 2014
Sport
Four ski officials in Slovenia have been suspended following allegations of results rigging
sportFour Slovenian officials suspended after allegations they helped violinist get slalom place
News
14 March 2011: George Clooney testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during a hearing titled 'Sudan and South Sudan: Independence and Insecurity.' Clooney is co-founder of the Satellite Sentinel Project which uses private satellites to collect evidence of crimes against civilian populations in Sudan
people
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily World Cup Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice