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George Dobell at New Road
May 9, 2012
Worcestershire 58 for 0 (Mitchell 30*) v Surrey
Most cricketers heading into a Test series in a week without a bat in English conditions for some months might be anxious for time at the crease.
But Kevin Pietersen is not like most cricketers. Unlike Ian Bell, who requested to play extra matches for Warwickshire and England Lions, Pietersen has never been the sort who felt he required lots of county games to find his form. Indeed, his appearance in Surrey's game at Worcestershire represented just his fifth championship match - four for Surrey and one for Hampshire - since he was first selected for Test duty in 2005. He does things his way and, with 20 Test centuries and a career average a fraction under 50, he can claim with some justification that it works rather well.
Instead Pietersen - who experienced a winter in which his performances progressed from poor to outrageously good - feels he is in the form of his life. While other players may need endless nets and time in the middle to feel well prepared, Pietersen relies more on confidence and knowledge that his hand-eye reflexes are working properly.
That may be just as well. While there was no sign of the floodwater that submerged this ground as recently as the weekend, only 26.1 overs were possible on the first day of this game due to rain. With Worcestershire choosing to bat first and the weather forecast hardly promising, there is a strong chance that Pietersen may have just one first-class innings ahead of the Test series against West Indies.
"I feel like I've never batted better," Pietersen said on the first day of Surrey's game at New Road. "I feel in great nick at the moment but everyone knows you have a couple of bad scores and everyone says you are in bad nick again. I know that is not true but all I'm doing at the moment is concentrating on my batting, doing whatever I can do to influence a fixture here in Worcester."
There was a time, not so long ago, when it would been unthinkable that a man could fly in from a T20 event in markedly different conditions and resume Test duties. But those days have gone. The IPL is a fact of life and Pietersen, for one, has clearly tired of justifying his involvement in it.
"It's plain and simple, mate," Pietersen said. "I'm sick and tired of having to defend myself about going to the IPL every year. I don't see why I need to defend myself. It's something that's there which all the best players in the world play in. Every single time in March and April, I have to defend myself about going to India. It's not going to change: I will play in the IPL. It's the best tournament going and that's the way it is."
That is not to say that Pietersen is a critic of the county game. Far from it. "I love county cricket," he said. "It is what served me well at the start of my career in England. It's a brilliant format and what makes a lot of players around the world. A lot of them learn their game in county cricket. It's a brilliant concept and the opportunity to turn up here for hopefully four days will be special. Batting here at Worcester might prove a little harder than at Lord's next week if I'm honest."
He admitted that the timing of his absence from home is not ideal - he would, naturally enough, prefer to spend Thursday with his son, Dylan, who celebrates his second birthday - but dismissed the idea that he required more of a break from the game after his stint in the IPL.
"Look, I love doing what I'm doing," Pietersen said. "I'm as fit as a fiddle. There is nothing wrong with my fitness at the moment. I love my job and there is nothing else I would rather be doing.
"I'll play as long as I'm fit. I'm not going to play until I'm 40 but I'm going to play as long as I can. I love playing for England. It's the best. Everyone says it's a shame missing out on the rest of the IPL and yes it is. But I'm playing the best form of cricket next week, I'm playing in a Test at Lord's. Growing up as a kid, that's the sort of things you dream of.
"This week is very tough for me because I've been away for two months. I haven't seen my kid for two months and it's his birthday. It's not the best situation for me but this is my job, this is what I've got to do, my family realises that and it doesn't last forever. It's a case of if the rain falls [on Thursday], I'll be going back to London for a day."
The problem for Pietersen comes if he fails. If he does so, having not been seen to acclimatise to English conditions, he will be condemned by those who, you suspect, are always looking for an opportunity to criticise him.
"It was a hell of a difficult winter," he continued. "We came under pressure from a very good Pakistan side and we realised we weren't as good as we thought we were. I'm not saying that we thought we were the most incredible outfit but we had played some very good cricket and it was nice to come under a bit of pressure. It is never nice to lose but good that we realised we've got some work to do especially in the sub-continent."
Pietersen had little to do on the first day of this game. Fielding mainly at cover or deep square leg, he looked fit and relaxed as he watched Worcestershire's openers justify the decision to bat first on what turned out to be a slow pitch offering little encouragement to the bowlers.
George Edwards - selected ahead of Chris Jordan and Matt Dunn - was the pick of the Surrey attack. Aged just 19 and another product of Surrey's bountiful youth system, Edwards bowled with impressive pace and control and looked to be a cricketer with a bright future.
Daryl Mitchell and Michael Klinger managed only three boundaries between them but completed Worcestershire second half-century opening stand of the championship season with the only moment of alarm coming when Mitchell, on 13, got a leading edge to a delivery from Tim Linley that fell into space.
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfoFeeds: George Dobell
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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