Strauss backs Pietersen to come good in testing times

England captain admits star batsman's form has dipped as tension rises before first Test

Andrew Strauss is confident that his star batsman Kevin Pietersen will rediscover the sparkle he showed in the early part of his international career when England take on South Africa in the first Test in Johannesburg this morning.

Pietersen has not been at his best so far on this tour, trying to re-establish himself after four months out injured – with the added complication of returning, for the second time in England colours, to the country of his birth. "KP found himself in quite an unfamiliar situation at the start of this tour," his captain said. "He's been playing cricket continuously, and it was the first time he's had some time away and has had to find his feet again. I think that has taken some adjusting to – and you have to build up through the gears."

A first half-century since his comeback, in a warm-up match at East London last week, hinted at Pietersen's readiness after all for this huge examination of his talent and resolve. "I'm very happy with the way he's been going about things," Strauss said, "and he looked better and better through the warm-up game. KP being the type of person he is, he will want to have a massive impact on this series. When you combine that motivation with his obvious skills it's a pretty good recipe."

The South Africa captain, Graeme Smith, confirmed that his key all-rounder Jacques Kallis will play only as a batsman as he has not fully recovered from a rib injury. England, on the other hand, have a full and fit squad to select from.

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