Pietersen engraves allegiance on his arm

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The Independent Online

Kevin Pietersen asserted his affinity with England yesterday by announcing his intention to have a tattoo of the three lions motif etched on his left arm. Whether construed as horribly tacky or touchingly patriotic, it would be as well if he avoids visiting the engraver before entering the Wanderers tomorrow in front of an infamously partisan and vociferous crowd.

Kevin Pietersen asserted his affinity with England yesterday by announcing his intention to have a tattoo of the three lions motif etched on his left arm. Whether construed as horribly tacky or touchingly patriotic, it would be as well if he avoids visiting the engraver before entering the Wanderers tomorrow in front of an infamously partisan and vociferous crowd.

Spectators at the Johannesburg arena consider it their bounden duty to terrify the opposition - usually with words to wither the staunchest individual but sometimes with more physical forms of abuse - and the sight of a batsman who was born and raised in Durban striding out to represent the English is already designed to provoke them into previously unheard torrents of invective.

Pietersen appears to have borrowed his particularly distinctive version of an oath of allegiance from Darren Gough, the England fast bowler, who has a similar inscription. "I think there's a strong probability of having it done on the day we leave but not before then because I believe it forms a scab," said Pietersen yesterday.

"The three lions with my cap number 185 underneath. That's not a Christmas present, that's for life. If anybody comes up to me and tells me I'm not English..."

Perhaps he will be telling his critics that the three lions rampant were the heraldic symbol of Richard the Lionheart and used to be underscored on English cricket shirts by the crown, a dispensation given to the MCC by Edward VII in 1909.

Pietersen had his refresher course of South African crowds while playing for England on Friday night in Kimberley and if they were inviting him out afterwards it was not for a quiet drink. "They gave me that traitor shit and all that nonsense, but it's water off a duck's back. I was South African for four years in England and copped it and now I'm copping it for being English in South Africa.

"The opposition that played last night just gave me stares but I wasn't really fussed since a lot of the blokes can hardly speak proper English."

The increasingly audacious manner in which he made 97 suggested that there was not a trace of water left on his back at all. It was unfettered big hitting in the Botham/Flintoff mould. He went on to say that he was a determined to play Test cricket with his name first on the team sheet, that he was a confident chap who had set out his goals by coming to England, and was not about to get an argument on that score.

Pietersen, whose ambition blazes in his eyes, was able to play county cricket in England because his mother was born there. In the past four years, he has frequently been invited to explain why he left. First, his answers revolved round the quota system which gave guaranteed places in provincial teams to non-white players. But latterly he has been careful to explain his allegiance to England. "I'm learning to speak like an Englishman, in fact I'll be speaking Yorkshire soon. I'm hanging round with Darren Gough too much."

He still has the humility to pinch himself. "It's unbelievable. If you'd have told me four years ago that I'd be playing international cricket now I'd have told you to go and get another drink," he said. "If things had worked out differently and I'd stayed in South Africa I'd probably be an engineer. My best mate who was better me than four years ago is playing club cricket now."

Even a man with his confidence may be relieved to hear a South African voice of reason. Boeta Dippenaar, who was captain of South Africa A on Friday night, said: "You must go with where you think there are the best opportunities and he obviously felt they weren't that great round here. You can't fault him, but there's no doubt he will probably be reminded on Sunday."

Dippenaar admired Pietersen's cricket skills too after see him strike three booming sixes. "He's got a ruthless streak similar to Hansie Cronje, who batted that way when the game was in the balance and then would suddenly decide to end it quickly."

Perhaps it was an unfortunate parallel since Cronje, though disgraced, is still considered a hero in these parts. Whatever happens tomorrow, that status will never be conferred on Pietersen. Not at the Wanderers, with or without a three lions tattoo.

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