Steve Harmison is back in the England side for the final Test © Getty Images
 
Kevin Pietersen has unveiled an attacking line-up for his first match as England captain, against South Africa at The Oval, with two key changes from the side that lost the third Test, and the series, at Edgbaston last week.

As widely predicted, Steve Harmison returns for his first outing since the defeat against New Zealand at Hamilton in March, as a replacement for Ryan Sidebottom who was noticeably off the pace in the last match after missing the second Test with a back injury.

"Sidey's struggling with a few niggles," said Pietersen. "We all saw he was down on pace last week, so he's not fit at the moment and we decided to give him a bit of a break to get away from things. But Steve is buzzing, properly buzzing. You can see that little smile on his face, and he'll be given the responsibility to take the new ball tomorrow."

Also recalled is Stuart Broad, who had been expected to miss out to give Ravi Bopara his second chance to cement a role as a Test batsman, after a torrid debut series in Sri Lanka in December. Instead, Broad's prowess with the bat has been acknowledged, and he will slot into a potent lower-middle order which begins with Andrew Flintoff moving up one position to No. 6.

"We need the extra bowler," said Pietersen. "It's a positive move, an aggressive move, and it's one where Mooresy [Peter Moores] and I have come to sing off the same hymn-sheet, which is a good start for us. It's given the batters the responsibility to score the runs, and Fred's happy at 6. I spoke to him and he said: 'Whatever you want to do, I'm there for you,' which is great from the big man."

Following Michael Vaughan's resignation and withdrawal from this Test, Ian Bell moves up from No. 5 to the No. 3 position that he has long coveted, with Paul Collingwood - England's centurion at Edgbaston - reverting to his former position at No. 5.

"Bell's going to get the responsibility at 3, and he wants that because he's played 40-odd Test matches now and he's been everywhere from 1 to 7," said Pietersen. "Flintoff, the way he's batted for us this summer, he's looked to build an innings and he's looked real real good. He balances the side beautifully at 6, and with Stuart at 8, that's a real strong side."

After the rumours about his strained relationship with Moores, Pietersen was keen to emphasise how much co-operation had gone on between the two men in the selection of the side, although it was left to the coach to inform Bopara of his omission. But once the team takes the field at The Oval on Thursday morning, there's no question who is going to be in charge.

"It's time to draw a line under what's happened, and start again afresh," said Pietersen. "I think the recipe for success that I've tried to use is do it my way. Once you go over the white line, to express yourself, and do whatever you need to do to be successful. Trust your practice, and trust your instinct, and trust what you've done the day before or the week before. And go out and do it.

"That's what I want my lads to do," he said. "Passion is a big word, but international cricket can roll into, day in, day out, train and play, train and play. The big feature for us this week is to get back to playing with real pride and passion, and get back to playing with confidence and without fear."

For all his bravado, there are several aspects of the leadership that will still be a mystery to Pietersen come Thursday morning. He had put little thought to where he himself will be fielding, for instance, and though he was looking forward with pride to the moment he walks out to toss up with Graeme Smith, he admitted that he has little idea about how to read a pitch.

"It's something I will definitely have to improve on," he said. "I've always believed that if you win the toss and you want to bat, you bat. If you don't think you're sure, you still bat, and if you're really not sure, you think for ten seconds then you still bat again. That's what I've been told, but I've never been a captain in a Test match."

All that is about to change, as England prepare to launch their new era. "It hasn't really sunk in properly yet, but I've got to do the simple things right," said Pietersen. "I've been under pressure ever since I came to England eight years ago, but I know what a great honour this is, and I'm going to give it a real good go. If I make a success of it, I make a success of it, but if I don't I'll be man enough to know I've got to go back and bat."

England 1 Andrew Strauss, 2 Alastair Cook, 3 Ian Bell, 4 Kevin Pietersen (capt), 5 Paul Collingwood, 6 Andrew Flintoff, 7 Tim Ambrose (wk), 8 Stuart Broad, 9 Steve Harmison, 10 James Anderson, 11 Monty Panesar.

Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo