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Never mind the scarred outfield, the state of the pitch or the fact that the home captain is playing his hundredth Test, the visiting captain is leading his side for a record 94th time, or the battle for the No1 spot. All the talk as the rain fell over cricket’s most esteemed venue on Wednesday was of one man – Kevin Peter Pietersen.
Seldom in the history of the sport has one man’s absence received so much airtime. No matter how South Africa and England play over these next five days, Pietersen will loom over this a bit like the famous weather vane “Old Father Time” on the Mound Stand.
“In our dressing-room it’s something that’s hardly been discussed except the amount of coverage it’s been getting,” an almost bemused Graeme Smith commented. “From our perspective it’s just been so overboard. I can’t believe it is still carrying on.”
The England Cricket Board on Wednesday received the apology they’d demanded from Pietersen at the weekend, and Smith, just as the squad’s management had done earlier in the week, took umbrage with suggestions in the local media that his team were responsible for leaking the information about Pietersen sending his players text messages during the Headingley match. “The notion that we’ve tried to nail Kevin and put things out in the media is just ridiculous. I’ve never heard such a load of rubbish.
“On this trip we’ve certainly played our cards close to our chest, we’ve really focused on the cricket, and not got involved in anything outside of that. You can see that by how we’ve played on the field and for us to be dragged into this is disappointing.”
The whole England team have been dragged into the affair since Pietersen’s remarkable press conference following the Headingley Test where he stated it was “hard being me in the dressing-room”. Andrew Strauss, who plays in his 100th Test at his home ground, said he felt “let down by Kevin”, following that Test.
“The catalyst was Kevin’s press conference after the Headingley Test because that’s when the players first got involved in it and actually that’s when I first got involved,” Strauss commented.
“Before that it was a dispute between Kevin and the board over his availability for the IPL and a number of other points. But once the players become involved then I become very protective of our environment. The values by which we live and treat each other – I am willing to remain vigilant about that going forward because I think it is central to why we are a good side. If we are going to resolve these issues then everyone has to take a long hard look at themselves and how things have developed in particular and say ‘have we done all we can to prevent this happening?’ If we are going to resolve those issues we need to do it face to face, away from the media spotlight and away from PR companies and press releases.”
What about the Test match, and all that is at stake for both sides?
South Africa have shown they are an excellent side and gradually improving under Gary Kirsten’s stewardship. It’s results that matter and in matches where they have needed to get positive results in the past, they’ve faltered. A major part of their improved composure is not concentrating on the negative, though, and placing an importance on each match, day or session. “You want to be successful in every series. If we carry on maintaining the kind of standards we set for ourselves then these things and records are something you only get to enjoy when you’re finished playing,” said Smith.
As has been the case throughout the series, South Africa will play the same team that started the match at The Oval. The make-up of the England side is something of a mystery of course.
Given all that’s taken place the last few days, and all the questions everyone has had to answer about “Kevin” – Smith summed up the feelings of both camps: “All of us are excited to play some cricket (today).”
South Africa (likely): Graeme Smith (capt), Alviro Petersen, Hashim Amla, Jacques Kallis, AB de Villiers, Jacques Rudolph, JP Duminy, Dale Steyn, Vernon Philander, Morné Morkel, Imran Tahir.
England (likely): Andrew Strauss (capt), Alastair Cook, Jonathan Trott, Ian Bell, Jonny Bairstow, James Taylor, Matt Prior, Stuart Broad, Tim Bresnan, Graeme Swann, Jimmy Anderson. – The Star