Kevin Pietersen turned 28 today and has declared that the England captaincy is the best birthday present ever. He was asked to step into the role for the fifth and final ODI against New Zealand at Lord's on Saturday, following the four-match ban that was doled out to Paul Collingwood for England's tardy over-rate at The Oval on Wednesday.
"It's an amazing job, an amazing honour and I am thrilled to bits," said Pietersen. He has no prior leadership experience upon which to call, but in recent months he has thrived on the added responsibility that comes with his senior status in the team, and he's confident that he is ready to take the extra step up. "I think I'll be a similar captain to the kind of person I am," he said. "I'll be calm, pretty chilled and let my gut instincts and feelings guide me."

"Tactically, I think I am pretty sound and aware of certain situations," said Pietersen. But this is a temporary job. Paul Collingwood has done a fantastic job, he's the skipper, so the main objective is not worrying about me, it's about making sure we win and draw the series. I'll do anything to win as long as it is in the Laws of the game. That's how I've played cricket my whole life."

He has played and learned his trade under some notable leaders, however, including Michael Vaughan and Hampshire's former captain, Shane Warne, who recently inspired the Rajasthan Royals to victory in the inaugural Indian Premier League. Asked what lessons he had learned from Warne, Pietersen replied: "Trust your instincts, be spontaneous and if you feel that something is right, have a go at it. Nine times out of 10 it is the right option."

It is a controversial atmosphere that Pietersen has inherited, however, following Collingwood's much-criticised decision to uphold a run-out appeal against Grant Elliott at a crucial stage of New Zealand's tense one-wicket victory on Wednesday. Ironically, it was Pietersen himself who removed the bails to ignite the incident, although much of the sting was drawn by Collingwood's hasty apology in the aftermath of the match.

"What's done is done," said Pietersen. "In hindsight, it's probably not the best decision we made, but don't think it's going to spill over. We have had a great relationship with the Black Caps and they are led by a great man in Daniel Vettori. But it was difficult for Colly, with some guys saying one thing, some guys saying another. He has got to make the decision right there. If you ask all the captains around the world 'what would you have done?' I bet you most of them would have said 'I don't know'."

England must now win the Lord's encounter to secure a 2-2 draw in the series, and Pietersen said he has been talking eagerly with his new charges in a bid to lift them in time for the showdown. "I've been giving certain players responsibility to do things, to make people feel important and bring the best out of themselves," he said. "We have identified where we need to improve and where we can help the skipper, and if we do everything we said in our team meeting, I'll be smoking a cigar at mid-off."

For the moment, the cigars are all in the possession of Pietersen's opposite number, Daniel Vettori, whose impassioned reaction to New Zealand's victory on Wednesday demonstrated the depth of resolve in his squad. New Zealand looked a broken team after losing the Test series, the Twenty20 and the first ODI at Chester-le-Street, but since then their fortunes have been transformed, and they stand on the brink of a notable double in one-day cricket, following their 3-1 victory against England in February.

Nevertheless, Vettori is not about to under-estimate the impact that Pietersen could have as England's new leader. "He's a guy I've played with [at Nottinghamshire and for the World XI] and against quite a bit. He seemed like the logical choice," said Vettori. "He has huge shoes to fill but he's the sort of guys who seems to demand that sort of attention."