England v New Zealand, 1st Test, Lord's May 13, 2008

Pietersen keeps his focus

Cricinfo staff

Kevin Pietersen reckons his 129 against New Zealand was one of his best innings © Getty Images
Kevin Pietersen is determined to keep his focus on the series against New Zealand, but it's difficult for him not to look ahead to the second half of the season when he will face South Africa for the first time in Tests.

The battles against his homeland have been restricted to the one-day arena, where he began in style on the 2004-05 tour with three centuries in the seven-match series. The other meeting was in last year's World Cup, which ended in a crushing England defeat during the Super Eight stage and eliminated them from the tournament.

Pietersen knows the series which starts in July will be tough, but says it will show England how they are shaping up ahead of the Ashes next year. "We are going to have to [move on to the next level], if we are going to beat South Africa," Pietersen said. "That's going to be the toughest series we have had for a long time, apart from Australia.

"I know how South Africa play their cricket. I play like South Africa play their cricket - tough, in your face, will do anything to win and really knuckle down. It's going to be a hard series. That's the series we're looking at targeting to see where we are at because it's going to be a pretty important summer, next summer."

But before that four-Test series, England must deal with New Zealand and know they can't take the task lightly after having to come from behind during the series in March. "We're not talking about South Africa yet, we are talking about New Zealand and wanting to beat them and beat them well," Pietersen said. "They are under-rated, they've got real quality bowlers, real quality batters, they play as a unit and their fielding is electric.

"They are under-estimated and we are not going to under-estimate them. We pulled off a bit in the first Test match we played there and then we buckled down."

In the final Test in Napier, Pietersen struck 129, his one century of the winter, after England slumped to 4 for 3 on the first morning. It's an innings he classes as one of his best given the match situation and eventual outcome. "One of my career highlights was the hundred in New Zealand. When the team needed me to stand up and be counted," he said. "I stood up to be counted. That's the stuff that really interests me. When England need me, I like to perform."