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The rise and rise of KP

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I'm up for the challenge - Pietersen

By Ben Dirs

"When you see a guy with a haircut like that, you have to shake your head and wonder where he's going."

South African great Clive Rice made that comment on the eve of the 2005 Ashes series, when only a madman would have predicted Kevin Pietersen would wind up as England skipper three years down the line.

Pietersen, 25 at the time, was pretty much everything an England skipper was not meant to be: flashy, arrogant, maverick and, his biggest sin of all in many people's eyes, South African.

Pietersen was born to an English mother and Afrikaner father and raised in the sleepy town of Pietermaritzburg, near Durban.

PIETERSEN'S CAREER HIGHLIGHTS
Kevin Pietersen
1997-98: Debut for Natal
2001: Joins Notts, averages 57.95 in first season
2003: Falls out with county, who are relegated
2004: Helps Notts get promotion. Picked for England's one-day international tour of Zimbabwe. Joins Hampshire
2005: Scores maiden England ton in South Africa. Helps reclaim Ashes with century in final Test
2006: Reaches 1,000 ODI runs in joint record 21 innings. Hits tons in three straight Test knocks
2007: Averages more than 50 in England's Ashes whitewash by Aussies. Hits highest score of 226 in 2nd Test against the Windies
2008: Named England captain

His coach at Maritzburg College tells of a remarkably driven character who was "always hardcore" and Pietersen made his debut for Natal against England in December 1999 when, batting at number nine, he clubbed 61 not out off 57 balls, including four sixes.

However, South Africa's quota system, whereby provincial sides are compelled to include a certain number of "non-white" players, thwarted his progress.

In 2000, Pietersen headed to England where he spent five months as Cannock CC's overseas player in the Birmingham and District Premier League, and Rice, then coach of Nottinghamshire, became interested.

Rice, who had seen Pietersen play as a schoolboy and knew he had a British passport, "noticed something special", offered him a contract and piqued his ambitions of playing international cricket, reminding him that if South Africa did not want him, then England might.

"We had no doubt from very early on what an exceptional player he was going to be," says Notts' current director of cricket Mick Newell, who was then Rice's assistant.

"He went straight into our first team and his self-confidence took people by surprise a little bit, it wasn't really an English attitude."

Newell says Pietersen had a "combustible relationship" with some team-mates, including skipper Jason Gallian, who once threw his kit bag out of the dressing room window.

Still, Pietersen, once seen as an off-spinner and hard-hitting lower-middle order batsman, was scoring stacks of runs and following an acrimonious move to Hampshire in October 2004, he was picked for England's tour of Zimbabwe.

Shane Warne (left) and Kevin Pietersen
Pietersen is congratulated by Shane Warne after his 158 at The Oval in 2005
Pietersen made 77 not out in his second match but it was on the subsequent tour of South Africa that he declared his genius and burst to the forefront of the public's consciousness.

Pietersen was crucified throughout the five-match series by his former countrymen, so much so that the abuse thrown his way made his mother cry, but he played magnificently, finishing with 454 runs from five innings and the player of the series award.

Despite harbouring reservations - his "dead skunk" haircut hardly screamed "responsible" - the England selectors decided to gamble and picked him for the first Ashes Test at Lord's in 2005, where he scored 57 and 64 not out as England fell to a big defeat.

Report: Pietersen named England captain

And just when it seemed his self-confidence might be fraying, with six dropped catches in the series and a string of unspectacular knocks behind him, Pietersen played a truly astonishing innings in the fifth and final Test at The Oval.

Pietersen hammered seven sixes in his unbeaten 158, salvaging a draw for England and ensuring his adopted country won the Ashes back after a hiatus of 18 years.

Pietersen was now paparazzi fodder and he filled his boots, acquiring extra bling, more tattoos and a handsome lady or two, including former Celebrity Big Brother star and lingerie model Caprice.

However, he continued scoring runs, including two big hundreds against Sri Lanka in his next two innings in England.

TMS: BLOG
BBC Sport's Oliver Brett

Pietersen was one of the few England players to emerge from the hellish 2006-07 Ashes series with any credit, and he also hit two tons in the 2007 World Cup while all around him were flagging.

Last summer, Pietersen struck 226 against West Indies at Headingley, the highest score by an England batsman since Graham Gooch's 333 against India in 1990, to cement his position as England's most reliable run-scorer.

Pietersen's bombast at the crease now appeared to be limitless, and against New Zealand earlier this year he invented a new shot, the so-called "switch-hit", which had the law-makers scrambling for their rule books.

Pietersen also got married last December, to pop star Jessica Taylor, suggesting he was maturing as a human being.

Kevin Pietersen with Liberty X singer Jessica Taylor
Pietersen is married to Liberty X singer Jessica Taylor

Yet still there were those who remained suspicious, and his dismissal in the third Test against South Africa at Edgbaston last week, when he holed out aiming for a six to reach his hundred, had former England skipper Alec Stewart calling for his gun.

Others - despite the three lions and crown tattoo on his left bicep - will always regard him as a soldier of fortune, plying his trade for England because his native country, in his own words, "shut doors" in his face.

What they forget is that Pietersen is "always hardcore," whether he be creosoting the fence or facing Brett Lee on a slippery deck at the Waca.

No your eyes did not deceive you, that was him with the sensible haircut and charcoal suit at Lord's on Monday afternoon: no longer the South African with a skunk on his head, but arrived as England captain.




see also
Pietersen named England captain
04 Aug 08 |  England
Pietersen appointment is 'brave'
04 Aug 08 |  England
Kevin Pietersen career photos
04 Aug 08 |  Cricket
Vaughan quits as England captain
03 Aug 08 |  England


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