|Player:||KP Pietersen, A Flintoff, ME Trescothick, SK Warne, M Muralitharan|
DateLine: 20th November 2006
Kevin Pietersen helped England win one Ashes series: now the question facing him and the rest of Andrew Flintoff's side is can they do it again?
Pietersen already had an important role to play in England's batting line-up before the Australlia tour started but, with opener Marcus Trescothick having returned home with a recurrence of a stress-related illness, the expectations on the top order shotmaker will increase.
That is unlikely to be a problem for Pietersen who doesn't suffer from the diffidence that has hampered the careers of many England cricketers. The Hampshire batsman is well aware of his own talents and worth. He has a directness and brashness that plenty find hard to take, never mind the diamond-earring and now discarded 'skunk' hairstyle. And that's just in England.
Indeed, there are many who contend that the 26-year-old is playing for the wrong country. Born in South Africa but qualified for England through an English mother, Pietersen quit his homeland in protest at being dropped from the Natal side because, he said, of a racial quota system. "To me, every single person in this world needs to be treated exactly the same and that should have included me, as a promising 20-year-old cricketer," Pietersen wrote in his autobiography.
Sportsmen are renowned for their tunnel vision but there were those in South Africa and beyond who were annoyed by Pietersen's apparent refusal to understand why, even if misguidedly, a quota system had been introduced.
Soon afterwards Pietersen came to England where he joined Nottinghamshire for three eventful seasons before moving to Hampshire, captained by Australia leg-spinner Shane Warne, at the start of the 2005 campaign. By then he'd already scored a century in a one-day international against South Africa in Bloemfontein, where he celebrated reaching three figures by kissing the England badge on his helmet. Then came the Ashes where he scored 473 runs in five Tests against the world's best team, starting with a pair of fifties on debut during the crushing series-opening defeat at Lord's.
Although essentially orthodox, Pietersen's ability to whip good length balls through the onside and his preparedness to attack Warne by using his reach to play sweep shots, marked him out. Come the last day of the final Test at The Oval, with the series still in the balance, Pietersen counter-attacked after a top-order collapse to score 158 and secure the draw that saw England win its first Ashes campaign in 19 years. His audacity was evident again at Edgbaston in May when, during a Test hundred against Sri Lanka, he reverse-swept off-spinner Muttiah Muralitharan for an astonishing six.
Often criticised for being addicted to celebrity, Pietersen's fame has yet to adversely affect his cricket. For example, he scored the first century of England's Ashes tour when he scored 122 against New South Wales last week.
After the end of the last Ashes series, Pietersen insisted he would not be distracted by the trappings of fame. "We have to make a living out of what we do and as long as it doesn't interfere with our cricket, it's okay," he told the Sunday Times. "Why would I want to take the mickey out of cricket? I haven't written to the newspapers and said 'I want to be a celebrity'. "Cricket will always be my priority."