A lot separates Kevin Pietersen from Alviro Petersen on the international cricket stage. Pietersen of England has played 73 more Tests – 89 to 16 – than the Protea Petersen. The former is among the most talked about players in the world, while the man from Port Elizabeth has just about established himself in the SA side for the foreseeable future.
Both were in bristling form with the media in the wake of the second Test at Headingley, where they played influential roles for their respective sides in a match which ended in an intriguing draw.
Petersen’s career-best 182 helped put South Africa in a powerful position after two days. On the third day Pietersen’s 21st Test century – described by many as one of the most thrilling Test knocks of all time – regained the initiative for England.
After Kevin had told the assembled media that they were to blame for his bad image and how it was “tough being me playing for England,” Alviro was reflecting on how he was being undermined by the fourth estate. “I feel under pressure every game,” an initially surly-looking Petersen claimed, “because, when I fail, I’m always one innings away from the media being on my case.”
Until his 182, which came in close to nine hours at Headingley, Petersen had scored 42 runs in four innings and batted for a total of just 156 minutes on tour. His duck at The Oval stood out on the South African scorecard of 637/2 declared. But it was hardly as if his head was on the block going into the Headingley match. As Graeme Smith said before, Petersen retained the support of teammates and the coaching staff.
He was very unlucky to lose his spot at the start of last season when Jacques Rudolph banged down the selectors’ door and demanded inclusion with his form in the SuperSport series. But he was restored to the side for New Year’s Test against Sri Lanka and since then has scored three centuries in six Tests.
Asked if he felt the pressure had now lifted, Petersen responded: “I don’t know, I just focus on my job and leave the rest to other people to do their business.”
In a star-studded batting line-up featuring names like Smith, Jacques Kallis, Hashim Amla and AB de Villiers, Petersen can seem like one of the smaller fishes. However there is no doubting his qualities as a batsman, and added to the elegant strokeplay for which he has long been known, Petersen’s innings in the second Test also showed doggedness that wasn’t always apparent in the early part of his career.
“I played and missed a lot, but I knew I had a game plan where I wanted to score and luckily it came off. The next ball is always the important thing. Once you think about the ‘play and misses’ it can get to you, it’s about putting it to one side, focusing on the next ball and I did that here. Test cricket is hard as an opening batsmen, you will play and miss, you are going to get nicked off sometimes but you’ve just got to take it.”
Petersen became the fourth different centurion for SA in the series – with all the hundreds big ones and in the case of Amla at The Oval, massive.
“At the start of the series, looking at both teams it was very even. There are good bowling attacks, good batters and not much separated the two and I still don’t think much separates the sides. Most of our batters have scored some runs, some of their guys might have wanted to score some more.”
South Africa do hold a significant advantage thanks to their triumph at The Oval, and Pietersen’s latest outburst this week, has indicated deep divisions in the England camp. Pietersen said the Lord’s Test could be his last, indicating that the rift with the England and Wales Cricket Board has deepened.
Pietersen is certainly not the most popular player in the England dressing-room – he and Andrew Strauss conducted separate press conferences on Monday – and despite the touch of genius he showed with the bat last Saturday, and a flair for the big moment with the ball his teammates have grown weary of answering questions about him all the time.
“I hope the Kevin issue isn’t going to be a distraction,” said Strauss. “The truth is we want as few distractions as possible in making sure we win this third Test match. I’m not here to talk about Kevin Pietersen. It is not something I want to talk about at this stage.” – The Star