Cocky Pietersen just what England need

2008-08-19 00:00

South Africa now only open their one-day international campaign against England at Headingley on Friday after the Twenty20 game scheduled for tonight was called off yesterday.

It promises to be a hotly contested series, and there is little doubt that England captain Kevin Pietersen is in a positive frame of mind. There is nothing new there.

Pietersen has already irked the Australians with his premature comments about an English Ashes victory coming hot on the heels of his maiden Test as English captain.

Pietersen’s already substantial ego received a definite boost when England clinched the last Test match of the series against South Africa and provided Pietersen with his first win as Test captain. Without wishing to take anything away from the English victory at the Oval, Pietersen most definitely had it all his way. South Africa were off the boil with the series already under their belt and were not as focussed as they should have been.

Pietersen, enjoying being the centre of attention, was seen hugging his team-mates, patting them on the back and geeing them up at every occasion.

As a player, I think I would find him a bit much as a captain, but I have great respect for him as a cricketer. Of course, he has yet to prove himself as a captain and will surely feel the pressure in the one-day series against South Africa, which will be a different test entirely, as South Africa are a well-drilled one-day outfit.

Pietersen is by nature a self-centred cricketer. Michael Atherton, a former English Test captain and now a Sky Sports commentator, has criticised Pietersen in the past for not realising his responsibility as a team member. Now, as captain, he will be forced to put his team’s success before his own, a concept which up until now has been foreign to Pietersen. He will have a bit of convincing to do that he is indeed the right man for the job.

The real test for Pietersen will be whether his own performance will be affected by his role as captain. Pietersen will need to divide his time between working on his own game and encouraging his team by leading from the front. Captaincy is not for everyone and time will tell whether he can indeed handle the responsibilities of the team without it impacting on his own performance.

The English team relies heavily on Pietersen doing well with the bat, so any dip in his form will have a detrimental effect on the team as a whole.

You have to admire Pietersen for accepting the challenge of captaining England, and I believe him when he says he’s going to be totally committed to the job.

His critics, and there are many, are convinced that he is not captain material, but his attention-seeking, in-your-face attitude could be just what England need to move them up the world rankings. And Pietersen would like nothing better than to prove his critics wrong.

With the talented players they have at their disposal, and an in-form Pietersen leading from the front, England could be a major force. Should England pull off a win in the one-day series, it will be a significant achievement for their new captain and I’ll have to make sure the TV is on mute when they conduct the post-series interview.

Neil Johnson, a former Natal, WP, Zimbabwe and Hamsphire all-rounder, lives in Pietermaritzburg.

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