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Against home away from home

Kevin Pietersen will be up against SA, a country he left because of its controversial selection policy, writes Atreyo Mukhopadhyay.

cricket Updated: Apr 17, 2007 03:10 IST

It will not be about individuals when England meet South Africa in a decisive Super Eight match on Tuesday, but a personal clash will be hard to overlook. England's principal hope Kevin Pietersen will be up against the country he was born, a country he left because of its controversial selection policy based on racial quotas.

Things have never been amicable between the dashing batsman and the South Africans since Pietersen made his ODI debut in that country in 2005. He was jeered by the crowd and sledged by the opposition, though Pietersen managed to prove a point with outrageous strokeplay in adversity.

Inevitably, this rivalry came up during Pietersen's interaction with the media 48 hours before the match, and he tried to play it down. "I wouldn't say it's the game that matters to me more than others because Australia is as big a game as them all. It's an important game for me and my team and I look forward to it."

But the 26-year-old, who has scored a century and two half-centuries here, was quick to add that there was something different about playing these two teams.

"I think it's because of my upbringing. I just get this feeling inside, this switch that goes on when you wake up to play against Australia and South Africa. They are games that really get me turned on."

There were questions on how he gets along with Graeme Smith, whom he termed a "muppet" in his autobiography, and Pietersen was candid. "We will not have a beer together after the match and we both know that. I think everyone knows we don't get on for whatever reasons, but that's gone, it's done. It's not about myself, Graeme Smith, Andre Nel or Michael Vaughan on Tuesday. It's about producing a big team performance."

But he did not deny that there would not be an undercurrent of bitterness. "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 the fact that there are some really fierce competitors and world-class players on both sides. Still, it's very simple and not about me."

England can win even if Pietersen scores nothing, but given the way he plays his cricket, this battle within the battle promises some excitement.

First Published: Apr 17, 2007 01:13 IST