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Page last updated at 18:23 GMT, Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Pietersen is still the main man

By Andy Swiss
BBC Sports News reporter in Basseterre

Kevin Pietersen
Pietersen is a popular figure among the St Kitts locals

It's a sweltering morning in St Kitts and England are practising in the nets.

After a few minutes, a gaggle of about 20 English tourists arrive - khaki-shorted and fresh off the cruise ship from Barbados.

Tentatively, one of them calls out to Kevin Pietersen.

Pietersen saunters over, a broad grin on his face.

"Mind if I take a photo?" asks a middle-aged man. No, he doesn't mind. "Go on Pat, stand next to him." Pat - a stout lady in a green dress - obliges.

Pietersen asks them about their cruise, exuding charm from behind his wrap-around shades.

"You look very handsome, very tall," coos another woman, to whoops of laughter. Pietersen smiles, playing to the crowd.

"Obviously there weren't many men on the boat" he jokes. More laughter, more posing for photos.

"I've got the best cricketer in the bloody world here, come on!" one man urges his wife, who's frantically fiddling with a camera.

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"We're from Cannock" blurts out another, for no apparent reason. "Nice" replies Pietersen with unfailing politeness.

After five minutes of chat and autographs, Pietersen heads back to the nets. The tourists are smitten.

In a nutshell, that has been Pietersen on this tour. Relaxed, charming, easy-going - almost unbelievably so.

Halfway back to the pavilion after his 103 against St Kitts, a small boy runs out to him - his father in hot pursuit with a camera.

Pietersen stops on the outfield, stoops down to pose, shakes Dad's hand, and carries on strolling back to the dressing room.

In the nets, he's been joshing with his team-mates, slapping shoulders and shouting encouragement.

In the team hotel, he's been lunching with the rest of the players - sometimes fresh from the pool with a towel round his waist.

I've no regrets - Pietersen

Cliques, rifts, tensions? Not on this evidence.

The team hotel - a huge, ultra-luxurious complex on this otherwise unspoilt island - is ideal for Pietersen.

Apart from the England squad, it seems everyone else is both American and retired - and therefore oblivious to the niceties of English cricket politics.

The players can stroll around, unrecognised and unhassled. It's a welcome change for Pietersen.

In the afternoons, he's even been out running round the island, pounding up its many steep hills, blissfully alone.

It's hard to imagine he's popped out for too many jogs in London over the last month.

Kevin Pietersen
Pietersen scored a typically stylish 103 against St Kitts Invitational XI

So St Kitts has been perfect for Pietersen - and Pietersen has been pretty perfect in St Kitts.

His century on Sunday was full of his usual swagger - the switch-hits, the ferocious swipes - his confidence seemingly undented by the recent turmoil.

And yet when he spoke afterwards, it was clear the wounds still run deep.

Pietersen feels he did nothing wrong. He was "let down" he says - but won't say by whom.

Would he change anything he did or said, I asked him? No. Any regrets? None whatsoever.

The other players are probably sick of being asked about Pietersen.

They all insist there's no problem - and so far, there's no reason to doubt them. And after a month in which he's been called all sorts of names, his popularity with the fans here is undimmed.

Our taxi driver last night - a frighteningly cool man called Frankie, who cites former Kent wicketkeeper Alan Knott as his hero - asked me about the whole Pietersen saga.

I tried to explain the story. Frankie paused for a few seconds, before delivering his verdict. "Whatever," he drawled, "Pietersen is still the man".

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see also
Strauss backs Pietersen to shine
18 Jan 09 |  England
Strauss finds form in tour match
27 Jan 09 |  England
Panesar shines as England stroll
26 Jan 09 |  England
Strauss to lead West Indies tour
07 Jan 09 |  England
England in West Indies 2009
29 Dec 08 |  England


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