No easy gigs for Pietersen on his comeback tour
He is returning from surgery to face the world's best side, taking on the players he grew up with – but KP is not easily intimidated. In Johannesburg, Stephen Brenkley reports
Thursday 12 November 2009
He swept in and the anticipation was palpable. Kevin Pietersen was excited and his audience was excited to see him. It had been too long and now after four worrying months in which his career has been under threat he is ready to bat for England again.
"It feels like a fresh start, and I can well advise it actually," he said. "As I've said so often before I believe that everything happens for a reason and I truly believe that what happened to me has probably been for the good. I hate missing games of cricket for England but, yes, the break I think has refreshed me."
What happened to Pietersen was a wound infection after surgery on an Achilles tendon amid the Ashes series last July. The operation was delicate but went well. Then the complications set in. What should have been six weeks out of the game turned into four months and only now is England's best batsman on the verge of recovery.
But the fine line between being fit and not being fit for the tough winter ahead against South Africa is clear. He started batting again only last week. Yesterday at the Wanderers had his first outdoor net since July, and is still having good and bad days with the Achilles.
"I have spent the last six weeks in the gym doing as much as I can to get myself right," he said. "Obviously I lost a lot of fitness sitting on my couch with the infection and everything and for a couple of months I was in a really bad way."
The enforced prolonged break and the mistakes which, it seems, caused it, might have been a blessing. It had been a tough 12 months for Pietersen up until July when the injury at last wore him down. It had started with his unexpected assumption of the England captaincy when Michael Vaughan resigned, continued with his loss of the job in January amid tumultuous circumstances after his split with coach Peter Moores and then came the slow agony of his injury.
Something went wrong in his recovery that should not have gone wrong. Pietersen refuses to elaborate, save to say that he would reveal all at the end of his career and to hint that there were links to advice he received after the surgery which meant he might have pushed himself too hard as a result.
"I viewed it as an opportunity to have a well-earned break," he said. "I didn't want to view it on the downside, thinking I might never play again. I just thought, you know what, I can do nothing about it, there's no point moaning, no point complaining, no pointing fingers at anybody. Just go out there, take a break from the game and come back fresh."
The Pietersen who sat there in a Johannesburg hotel yesterday was much changed from the Pietersen who was there a few yards away nearly five years ago discussing his astonishing initial impact. Then he was new to the England team, richly promising but an unknown quantity. He sported a haircut which consisted of a broad white stripe from top to bottom. But it wasn't only that.
"Don't remind me of it," he said. "It was five years ago, I was still growing up, I was single, I was having a great time, really fresh, really buzzing, hadn't had too many knocks along the way. In the last four years I have grown up.
"You get married, you settle down, you become a lot more mature, you concentrate on exactly what you have to concentrate on, your focus becomes a lot more intense in cricketing areas, you take a few knocks along the way. 2009 has been a year like nothing else, it's all part of development, it's all part of learning, but it's been great. It has been a fantastic ride and I want to jump back on it now."
England have surprised most observers by how competently they have played without Pietersen. But he declared his pride in the team and after his early departure from the Ashes he made sure he kept in touch. He hobbled round with the team on their Ashes of lap of honour.
It is somehow appropriate that the fresh start is in South Africa, where his life began as did, in essence, his international career in early 2005. He is joined this time by another player who was born and learned his cricket in there before deciding that England's grass was greener, Jonathan Trott. "The first time I came here five years ago the crowds were pretty hostile," Pietersen said. "I have been back here for the World Twenty20 and for the IPL and had some fantastic receptions. Hopefully, they will respect the cricket I have been playing over the last five years and the cricket the team plays.
"I saw Jonathan briefly, and he said everything was really good. In our young days he played for Western Province and I played for Natal and there is a huge rivalry between the two. I spent an hour with him in the dressing room after The Oval Test talking about stuff, little things he can do that I didn't do, trying to guide him to not make a few of the mistakes I made.
"I have experienced in the last five years what he could potentially come up against in the next five years so there are a lot of things I can talk to him about. But while I don't mind helping anybody I'm also not one of these people who will force myself on somebody."
Pietersen hopes to play his first game next Tuesday in a 50-over warm-up match. He then intends to be available for the five one-day internationals and the four Test matches. His wife Jessica will be here for a large part of the tour. It was her absence and his request to go home which caused some friction on the West Indies tour earlier this year.
"I won't make that mistake again," he said. Knowing Pietersen, there may be other mistakes of course. But it was good to see him back.
While he was gone: England without KP
England have had mixed fortunes since Kevin Pietersen pulled out of the Ashes with an Achilles injury in July.
Tests P3 W1 L1 D1
v Australia, July/Aug (Edgbaston) DREW
v Australia, August (Headingley) LOST
v Australia, August (The Oval) WON
One-day internationals P12 W4 L8
After beating Ireland, England lost the series against Australia 6-1. They had a better than expected Champions League with surprise victories over Sri Lanka and South Africa, before losing to Australia in the last four.
Both Twenty20 internationals against Australia were rained off.
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