South Africa in England 2008 August 20, 2008

Botha ready for Pietersen challenge

Cricinfo staff


Johan Botha on Pietersen: 'If he does move early you maybe could pull out, but I suppose it is also a good opportunity for a wicket if you get it right' © Getty Images
 
Finding some dry weather appears to be the biggest challenge ahead of the one-day series between England and South Africa, but when the contest does get under way - hopefully at Headingley on Friday - one of the major focuses will be how Kevin Pietersen takes on the South Africa attack.

Against New Zealand earlier this season he sparked heated debate by unleashing his switch-hits at Chester-le-Street during a flamboyant century. Pietersen then repeated the shot against Paul Harris at Edgbaston during the South Africa Test series and his century at The Oval, in his first match as captain, suggests he isn't about to change the way he plays because he's captain.

However, South Africa - No. 2 in the one-day rankings - are not about to be intimidated by Pietersen's bravado. "Obviously you have to find a way to bowl some dots against him and build a bit of pressure, because he is one of the world's best if not the best at the moment," said offspinner Johan Botha. "He has got all the shots and new ones. I see it as a challenge because no one else out there does it, so I would like to see what I do if he does it.

Being the team's main spin option Botha is likely to be one of Pietersen's targets for the switch-hit, but he is prepared for anything that is thrown at him. "We have had a few chats, and some of the senior guys have an idea what I should do," he said. "If he moves late you cannot do anything if the ball has already left your hand.

"If he does move early you maybe could pull out, but I suppose it is also a good opportunity for a wicket if you get it right. If he is totally turning around then his head is moving. But you have to acknowledge he has done it well so far: I have seen him five to 10 times, and he has never failed."

The gap between South Africa in second and England ranked at sixth suggests that the visitors start with a significant advantage. The last time the two sides met in a bilateral series, in 2005, South Africa won 4-1 despite three centuries from Pietersen in his debut series.

"The first two games are going to be important," Botha said. "If we can set it up early and take a lead I am sure the confidence should take us through to the end, and we can win the series."

For Botha to be in the position of South Africa's premier one-day spinner represents a strong fightback after he was reported for a suspect action following his Test debut against Australia, in Sydney, in January 2006. However, he went away and remodelled his delivery during 18 months out of international cricket and has now played 27 ODIs while adding another Test cap.

"It definitely strengthened me a lot mentally," he said. "During that period, I had to really think about my bowling and be really on my game - so that if something didn't feel right with my bowling I knew what it was.

"That helped me to groove my action and feel my action a bit more, so I can work it out if something goes wrong."

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