Pietersen ready for South Africa needle
When England's Kevin Pietersen bats against South Africa in a crucial World Cup Super Eights match on Tuesday he will be short of neither motivation nor confidence. That Pietersen reserves his best against the country of his birth can be gauged from his average of 151.33 against South Africa, and 56.55 overall.
Pietersen is currently in good form, having scored England's only century of the tournament against Australia in the Super Eights. England supporters hope he continues in the same vein in a match they need to win to sustain their hopes of qualifying for the semi-finals. If South Africa are successful, they will be in the last four.
Lurking beneath the surface is a bitter relationship between Pietersen, who was condemned as an opportunist when he decided to qualify for England after protesting against the quota system in South Africa, and the opposition captain Graeme Smith. The two have been engaged in a torrid war of words for two years.
"Everyone knows we don't get on for whatever reasons, but that's gone," Pietersen said. "It's not about myself, Smith, Andre Nel or Michael Vaughan on Tuesday, it's about producing a big team performance.
"I wouldn't say that it is the game that matters to me more than the others because the match against Australia is big as well, but it's an important game for me and I look forward to it. It's going to be a big game with a lot of needle. I don't know why there is needle between the two sides other than there are some really world-class players on both the sides."
Smith was furious when Pietersen switched allegiances. "I'm patriotic about my country, and that's why I don't like Kevin Pietersen - the only reason that Kevin and I have never had a relationship is because he slated South Africa," Smith has said in the past.
Pietersen tried to diffuse a potentially explosive situation on Monday. "I saw Smith in India and I saw him in the world series and we said hello," he said.
Smith and Michael Vaughan, the England captain, will both face the added pressure of needing to get their sides off to strong starts. England's top three has struggled during the tournament and Vaughan is determined to lift to improve their chances of a semi-final spot.
"It is a mixture of reasons for the struggle at the top of the order and definitely form is one of those," Vaughan said. "We need to spend some time in the centre. We have to improve in some areas."
South Africa lost to New Zealand on Saturday but Smith was confident of a quick recovery. "It is a crunch game for us and it always was going to be," he said. "We'll bounce back. We have a lot of experience and we've got a lot of big players looking forward to the England game."