South African batsman AB de Villiers has moved to douse speculation of a hostile homecoming for Kevin Pietersen and Jonathan Trott by insisting South African crowds will not turn on their one-time countrymen. Pietersen and Trott, both of whom played their junior cricket in South Africa before taking the Kolpak route, arrived in Bloemfontein this week with the England team ahead of a two and a half month tour expected to test both mettle and skill.
Pietersen was subjected to torrents of abuse from South African crowds on his maiden one-day tour with England five years ago, and Andy Flower, the England team director, has predicted Trott could face a similar grilling this summer. de Villiers, too, expected England's South African contingent to face their share of jeering from local spectators, but did not believe a line would be crossed.
"Like any other touring side they'll obviously get some boos and the normal kind of stuff," de Villiers told Cricinfo's Switch-Hit podcast. "I don't think they'll get a bad reception. Obviously because they're South Africans who went over there and did pretty well, the guys will react a little bit more towards KP and Jonathan Trott, but I don't think in a bad way. The crowd obviously want us to win, but I don't think it will be too bad.
"Obviously there are a few South Africans involved (in the England squad). I would like to give credit to them - obviously they've made a big decision in their careers to go over there. Well done to all the South Africans who have come through there. It will be interesting to play against them now. When you walk across the boundary rope it's England against South Africa and that's all that matters."
de Villiers was in sublime form during his most recent Test assignment - a six-game home-and-away series against Australia, during which he scored 600 runs at an average of 75. The right-hander was one of the few South African batsmen to consistently repel the hard-charging Mitchell Johnson, and went far towards ending the fledgling career of Bryce McGain, Australia's great wrist-spinning hope, with a brutal innings of 163 in his last outing at Newlands.
Having watched the Ashes series with interest, de Villiers predicts South Africa's batsmen will face a tough challenge from England's youthful fast-bowling line-up. Familiar names such as Andrew Flintoff and Steve Harmison may not feature in England's touring party, but de Villiers believes the likes of James Anderson and Stuart Broad could thrive in the pacier conditions of South Africa.
"England beating Australia is a little bit of added pressure on us, but we've got the team, the talent and the potential to handle that," he said. "I think they've got a very talented bowling line-up. Losing a guy like Flintoff was a big loss, but they had quite a few youngsters put their hand up in the Ashes. Anderson and Broad have done extremely well.
"I rate (Harmison) as a class bowler and it's disappointing not to see him in the squad, but some of the youngsters have put their hands up and it makes sense that they are in the squad above Harmison. Anderson and Broad had amazing (Ashes) series and it will be interesting to see them over here with a bit of swing in these kind of conditions in South Africa it's going to be a big challenge for our batters."
South Africa's poor showing before their home fans at the Champions Trophy tournament had provided added incentive for a strong showing against England, de Villiers added. "Obviously it was very disappointing over here in South Africa to let ourselves down," he said. "We played some very, very poor cricket. We know where we went wrong but we'll definitely assess on Friday when we get together before our game against Zimbabwe. We've got a point to prove now."
Alex Brown is deputy editor of Cricinfo