Pietersen's promise - to take the breath away

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The Independent Online

On 12 September 2005, Kevin Pietersen's life changed forever. Given his unswerving self-belief and single-minded conviction, he was probably uncertain only about the timing of this occurrence.

But that was the day that Pietersen played an imperishable innings of 158 and became the man who finally grabbed the Ashes from Australia's clutches. Like everybody else in the team he was made an MBE, unlike everybody else he was also elevated to the Celebrity List, somewhere between A and B.

He seized the moment at The Oval and he has hardly been slow in snatching others since. It is in Pietersen's nature to relish the attention but he also has the capacity to set that part of his existence to one side.

"Yes, the Ashes has changed my life, but one thing I haven't let it do is affect the way I train, affect my cricket, affect everything I do to make myself successful," he said. "I go out to win games for England and be one of the greatest batsmen.

"I know what has brought me success. I was brought up pretty well in terms of everything. I know what has put a pretty nice roof over my head. I know what has got me a lot of the things that I want and this lifestyle, and it is cricket at the end of the day."

If these were sound, sensible words they also echoed what many of those close or at least not far away from Pietersen have said. They see nothing wrong with him liking the glamour and the glitz, but from Shane Warne downwards they warn him against liking it too much.

It is still easy to forget that a year ago Pietersen had not played a Test match for England. He had cut an early swathe through one-day cricket with a set of initial appearances in his native South Africa that were nothing short of phenomenal. In seven innings he scored three centuries.

But this did not dispel doubts about his ability to play the longer form of the game. Indeed, his singular batting method probably increased them. But by the start of the Ashes series, the selectors bit the bullet. He was in, and now barely 10 months later it seems he was never out.

If the Oval century changed everything, however, this is still another big year coming up for the man who likes to be known as, and indeed sometimes refers to himself as, KP. (It may not be purely out of friendship that Warne tends to call him PK). Pietersen has made only 11 Test appearances, with two hundreds, but much of the team's middle-order batting drive comes from him.

There has never been an England batsman quite like him. He refuses to be intimidated on any track, he insists on setting the tone. Last week Hampshire were 12 for 4, he made 98 from 73 balls and they won the game. From him it was a normal day at the office.

If he is never less than spectacular we had better become accustomed to being infuriated. Pietersen is talented and bloody-minded enough to play a breathtaking innings every time he walks out, but it is likely to work only about once every five or six matches, maybe once a series. The rest of the time Pietersen may flatter to deceive.

He will deny this - he has several times - and he will mean it. But by and large international bowlers are not going to be fooled all the time. They know that he gives them a chance. This should be easily tolerated, because when Pietersen scores big in Test matches the likelihood is that England are certainly not going to lose and are likely to win.

He can be an engaging and obliging man. At the launch of the project called Urban Cricket last week he could not have done enough for the sponsors, npower, or for the inner-city kids who were there to see him. Sometimes he seems almost too anxious to please, as if absolutely determined to allay those rumours of being difficult that perpetually accompanied him when he first came to England as a 19-year-old.

"I'm definitely going to get involved with Urban Cricket, it's something that's close to my heart," he said. "I love seeing kids happy, I love seeing the kids playing sport and being competitive and playing to win. I think it can breed success for the country, the game and the children."

If this sounded a mite rehearsed, Pietersen will keep the promise. He will see it as his duty. He has been punctilious in ensuring that he fitted into the England dressing room, and while he has strong views about cricket he is careful to speak in generalities. He learns, too.

When he was asked an innocuous question about the possibility of Andrew Flintoff retaining the captaincy at the start of the summer he demurred, insisting that selectorial matters were nothing to do with him. He was doubtless recalling that the last time he passed judgement on a selectorial matter in his newspaper column (he implored Duncan Fletcher to recall Darren Gough) he was criticised by the management.

Pietersen likes the trappings. There was a parade of glamour girls on his arm after the Ashes, but he might at heart be a quiet chap. He still has a pop star girlfriend from Liberty X, but he almost touchingly, without nods to political correctness, calls her the missus.

"I've got used to the attention beyond cricket," he said."It's become a way of life and it's bearable. Smile, be happy and put that extra 10 per cent in on and off the field, in terms of politeness and everything. It was daunting to start with but it's OK now.

"I just go round and do my business, but the amazing thing is you have to make sure you're dressed up for the occasion every time you leave the house, because the paparazzi are always there. You've always got to be on your guard, but I don't do many things I am not supposed to be doing. I just do my daily thing and be more polite and be a happy person, which I generally am."

If he is keen to fit in he wants to stand out as well. His bizarre hairstyle last year - a blond streak through the middle - testified to that. He has toned it down now, favouring the crop cut beloved of his generation. "You're not going to see much hair. I like this and my missus likes it."

He will not be changing his batting style, but the point about Pietersen - whom Warne playfully but meaningfully calls a cricket tragic - is that he will adapt. "I go out in every single game as though it's my last game. It's very easy to divide. Work comes first, the other stuff I do around it." Life might have changed irrevocably, but Pietersen recognises that it must always have cricket.