Pietersen is a match-winner - Gooch
Graham Gooch, England's new batting coach, has no concerns about Kevin Pietersen's indifferent form and insists that Pietersen just needs more time after returning from injury.
Pietersen has not played a Test for England since the second Ashes Test at Lord's in July. He returned to the side for the second Twenty20 against South Africa on November 15 but did not make an impact in that match or in the one-day series that followed, failing to pass 45 in his five outings on the tour so far.
Despite the poor run, Gooch is confident Pietersen will be back to his best soon. "I think, with any player - whatever their ability level - if you've been out of the game with injury, you've got to work hard to find your way back both mentally and physically.
"Kevin has been a super performer for England since 2005. He's been a match-winner - and I'm sure he'll continue to be a match-winner. But, if you've been off for a while, it takes time. It's not easy to just get yourself back into it.
"But, in his case, he's been the mainstay of the England batting over the last four years - and I would expect him to continue."
Pietersen has a maximum of four innings to rediscover the touch that brought him 16 hundreds in 54 Tests, in England's two warm-up matches in East London before the first Test at Centurion on December 16.
Despite missing Pietersen's class and experience for the last three Ashes Tests, England managed to the win series and won the one-day rubber against South Africa 2-1 without a major contribution from him.
For a player used to dominating, it is important for Pietersen and England that he reasserts himself but the constant pressure to perform is something Gooch feels separates international cricket from other forms of the game.
"At international level, your career is on the line every time. Every time you walk out there with your international shirt on, across that white line, you're putting your reputation and the reputation of your country on the line," he said. "That is one of the exciting things, the challenges, of playing for your country."
Gooch admits that touring South Africa will be demanding for England but feels his side has the ability to topple the hosts. "South Africa are a high-ranking side in both forms of the game, so it's a great challenge for England. What an opportunity this is for our players - very exciting - and I think this is a challenge they're going to rise to."
"Part of the pleasure of playing at the top level is to challenge your ability against the best. England have got a good line-up - and, if they believe in themselves, I don't see any reason why they can't have success here."
Gooch was last involved with England in 1999, when he and Mike Gatting filled in as the team's managers between David Lloyd's resignation and Duncan Fletcher taking charge, in a series England lost 2-1 to New Zealand. In the decade since, one of the major differences in the way the side is run has been the advent of central contracts.
Despite being famous for his hard-working approach as a player and captain Gooch is acutely aware of the need for modern international players to rest. "On balance, [central contracts] are a good thing - as long as the players are handled in the right way, rather than a 'one size fits all' in terms of their individual needs and playing and resting.
"With batsmen in particular, the thing that usually goes first is the mental capability of being able to get yourself up for each game. That's the difficult bit when the games come thick and fast one after another, not so much the physical part of it. You have to have a strong mind and you can't be jaded."
Gooch was asked by Flower to help coach the batsmen and will stay with the tourists until the end of the first Test this month.
"It's a great honour to be asked to come and help the England team, to help with anything to do with English cricket. When you're a driven individual, you want your national sport and your national team - which you've given a lot of time to down the years - to be successful. I just want England to win cricket matches."
Despite this experience coaching at his former county, Essex, where he got to know Flower and was a mentor to Alastair Cook, Gooch admits that, outside of watching them on TV, he is unfamiliar with some of England's current crop of players.
"Although I know the players well, in terms of watching them through the media, I don't know a lot of them well personally. It will be a case of observing, trying to get their trust - and seeing whether I can help in terms of experience.
"Coaching is about getting people's trust, getting to know them. You can't just come in and say 'well, you've got to do this, this and that'. That's not the way it works. You have to build up a relationship over a period of time."