Pietersen plays the passion card

Attitude and ability mark Nottinghamshire's rebel out as an England player in waiting
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The Independent Online

If England require a tough, determined, assertive, ambitious cricketer who craves winning and personal success - and, who knows, they might - then they will turn soon to Kevin Pietersen. Here is a 23-year-old who knows what he wants and will go to considerable lengths to get it.

If England require a tough, determined, assertive, ambitious cricketer who craves winning and personal success - and, who knows, they might - then they will turn soon to Kevin Pietersen. Here is a 23-year-old who knows what he wants and will go to considerable lengths to get it.

He left his native South Africa, his family and friends, because he was unhappy with his treatment in the post-apartheid republic, and threw in his lot with Nottinghamshire and England. He now proposes to leave Trent Bridge with a year of his contract left because he is unhappy with his treatment there.

Pietersen and his advisers are threatening legal action; so far Nottinghamshire are being intransigent, and say they aim to keep a player who patently has no wish to play for them. In a fortnight, Pietersen leaves on England A's tour of India. He is not qualified to play for the senior team until the end of the 2004 season, otherwise he could have been chosen already. He has set his sights on being picked for England's tour of the country of his birth next winter, and relishes the idea of scoring a hundred in front of a hostile crowd at the Wanderers in Johannesburg.

This is a single-minded fellow, one who fully recognises his talent and is dedicated to ensuring it flourishes. These are enviable qualities that might occasionally make it possible for him to get up the odd nose. "I've come over from South Africa and I've built my own life here by myself," he said. "I haven't had family, I haven't had all my true friends from South Africa, I've had to make friends, I've basically had to do everything independently. So, I'm always inquisitive, I always ask the question why. In the past I've been difficult to get to know totally because of maybe holding myself in, but I think I've been all right lately."

The why question he asked throughout the 2003 season was about his lack of opportunity to bowl his off-spin. By his own admission, this involved two big altercations. "I had specifically gone to Australia the previous winter and bowled first grade with Greg Matthews [the former Australia off-spinner], and came back a much better bowler. I started off the season really well, got 11 wickets at 30 apiece, and then I didn't see the ball again for the rest of the season. I was a totally frustrated cricketer, carrying the team with my bat."

Pietersen is obviously not short on self-belief. His early wickets, including five against Durham University, actually cost 25, and he bowled only 22 overs from June on. As for carrying the team, he made 1,546 runs, 500 more than the next man, and averaged 53. It was the third time in his three seasons at the club that he had led their batting averages.

He leftafter Nottinghamshire's last match of the season when, it is now alleged, the captain, Jason Gallian, broke one of Pietersen's bats and threw it over the dressing-room balcony. Although relationships had already been strained to breaking point, it is this incident that Pietersen will use, if necessary, to claim constructive dismissal at an industrial tribunal. His solicitor, Nanesh Desai, said: "This seems to show that they did not want him. It is not the way to treat employees." Pietersen said to this reporter: "What would you do if your boss threw your laptop out of the window?"

Desai said he would not normally advocate the breaking of a contract, but these were special circumstances. The likelihood is that Pietersen will leave, probably for a club in the south. The Professional Cricketers' Association might become involved, and Nottinghamshire may try to seek compensation. The trouble is that compensation paid by another county would be tantamount to a transfer fee.

There is the suspicion from all this that Pietersen is destined always to be a controversial cricketer. Perhaps he thrives on it. He decided to leave KwaZulu Natal because he was unhappy with the quota system that gave compulsory opportunities in the provincial side to black players. "I had to make out a list of yeses and nos but I have never, ever regretted my decision to come to England, except some mornings when it's raining. I will live by it to the end of my career. My mates in South Africa, who are being pushed out because of politics, are all envious. They would give me millions of rands for my passport." It was his mother's English birth that allowed him to come here.

He is known as KP, and some at Trent Bridge might testify that KP is nuts. Whatever the club feel, the players seem to think that if Pietersen wants to go he should. He has spent 10 weeks at the National Academy in Loughborough ("Ask anybody, I've been fantastic to get on with"), working hard on his bowling.

"I think I'm a really grown-up bloke for 23," he said. "Coming from South Africa, my mannerisms can be pretty tense. But I've relaxed so much and chilled out since coming to England. I don't have to watch my back. I'm very happy here."

England may soon be happy to have him, but do not expect the passage to be less than stormy.

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