Pietersen lets hair down as England stars face off in final
First, Kevin Pietersen, Hampshire's explosive England batsman, is back and with a new hair-do which will be revealed this morning. Second, Pietersen confirmed that five years ago Warwickshire had the talented South Africa-born player in their clutches only to turn him down after a trial Second XI match against Surrey when he scored 92.
"It's true I did have a trial with Warwickshire in 2000," he said. "I was playing club cricket in the Birmingham League for Cannock. I had trials with quite a few counties before I signed with Notts but, yeah, Warwickshire missed the boat."
He is determined that Hampshire will not miss the C&G Trophy boat. "I like the big games. I can't wait for the final. I play every single game as if it were my last. So I will be up for it. I will prepare myself for it as I would for an international and I had a new hairstyle done yesterday. You'll be able to see it tomorrow."
Whether his latest hairstyle can help Hampshire put one over on a Warwickshire team bristling with experience is debatable. But the Bears' captain, Nick Knight, acknowledged: "Kevin is a dangerous player, I am sure everyone at Lord's would love to see him explode into action and play a great innings. But sometimes in finals you can spend so much time worrying about certain players, and you find it's the ones you haven't bothered with who have a really good day."
One of those might well be Hampshire's stand-in captain, the off-spinner Shaun Udal, at 36 the second-oldest man on the field after the 37-year-old Trevor Penney. Udal enters the game with three five-wicket hauls in his last four Championship matches and he revealed he has added a new weapon to his armoury courtesy of Shane Warne.
"Shane has taught me a few things - most of which will remain private - about my wrist position," he said. "It has helped me develop a slider and hopefully I will get it to work at Lord's."
Warwickshire welcome back England duo Ashley Giles and Ian Bell, who said: "Having Ashley playing for us gives everyone a boost."
Bell is also relishing playing against Pietersen. "I'm sure he'll be out there to smack us to all parts, but we've got some good players as well who will hopefully be able to combat him."
But in the sort of mood Pietersen claims to be in, he can be hard to contain. "I play to win. I never say die, I never think we are going to lose until 10 minutes after we have actually lost."
Pietersen is still technically in England's charge and the Ashes climax at The Oval next week is hovering in his thoughts. "I have never been to a final at Lord's, so it will be a special occasion for me as well, but, yeah, there is always at the back of my mind the final Test. Next week is pretty big for England ... so I'd be stupid to say I'm not going to be thinking about it, but when I am out there playing [today] I will just be focused purely towards hopefully winning the final."
Pietersen did admit to enjoying some friendly rivalry with Giles and Bell in the run-in to the Lord's showdown. "There has been a lot of banter leading up to the final. They will be playing to win so that they can pull the mickey out of me next week and I will be playing to win so I can nail them next week. I had the same sort of rivalry with Michael Vaughan before the semi-final against Yorkshire."
Warwickshire have some serious contributors with bat and ball, among them Neil Carter and Knight himself, who is averaging 105 in the competition this season with two hundreds. Penney has hit two unbeaten half-centuries for an average of 60.
Hampshire, the winners of this competition in 1991, boast John Crawley, a veteran of four finals when he was with Lancashire. His average in those matches at Lord's is 78, and he has not been on the losing side. It all looks to be stacked against Warwickshire, but they have also experienced victory at headquarters, most recently in the 2002 B&H final. Hampshire possibly have the edge in a finely balanced match.
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