Kevin Pietersen says he has whittled down his golf handicap from double digits to an ultra-competitive five.
He revels in the pursuit of fresh perfection, and will probably be down to scratch in a few years, considering that the prestigious Wentworth in the English countryside is his back garden and he carts his clubs around the world along with his batting gear.
But as the Dolphins and the rest of the T20 Challenge were happy to discover this week, the big man still values batting over birdies. The golf can wait - for now, at least.
“I would far rather have a hit than be playing golf in Melbourne or Adelaide,” said Pietersen as he was welcomed back into the Dolphins sheds this week, and ahead of today’s clash against the Titans in Bloemfontein.
His deal this season with the KwaZulu-Natal franchise has been negotiated around a budding career as an extrovert voice on Channel 9 for the Proteas’ tour Down Under - a role that he is thriving in as his storied playing odyssey cruises towards its final phase.
“I will play for as long as I am enjoying batting. I absolutely love batting! As long as I feel I can keep performing and train the way that I have out there today, then I will keep playing,” he insisted.
The artist informally known as “KP” will not go quietly into the night. Despite his frank views on fielding in recent years - “I absolutely hate it!” - Pietersen emerged from the fielding drills with “the lads” as grubby and glistening as the youngsters. The mind may be reluctant, but the 36-year-old body has only ever known to give 100%.
Pietersen, relaxed and revelling being back in action, said he is looking forward to locking horns with Mark Boucher, a former international rival turned buddy and - this weekend at least - foe, when the Dolphins and the Titans meet today.
“Ah, Bouch,” Pietersen sighed, his mind flicking back to nearly a decade of jousts on the field. “I’ve got to try to somehow win on Sunday.
“It’s probably not a bad thing that I jump on a plane straight after the game,” he winced, before getting serious about one of South Africa’s most experienced cricket brains being thrown into the coaching melting pot, regardless of experience or qualifications.
“I think it’s a fantastic selection to get a guy who has played as much cricket as he has back into the set-up. All this garbage about Level 1, 2 or 3, not interested.
“When you’ve got a guy who’s played 147 Test matches, and the touring and the knowledge and the mentorship, I don’t care if he’s done 10 levels. That’s the kind of guy, when you walk into a change-room, you really want to go for,” he added.
Several Dolphins players expressed similar sentiments about Pietersen’s presence in the changing-room. One of them was Andile Phehlukwayo, who Pietersen had earmarked last season as a player made for the big occasion.
“It’s such a pity that he (Phehlukwayo) is out for the entire competition,” he bemoaned. Phehlukwayo, pictured below, made a strong impression on KP, not least when he somehow snatched a playoff victory from the jaws of defeat last term.
“Yeah, I still can’t believe he won that game for us!,” Pietersen chuckled as his mind went back to the subsequent fines meeting, a night that went down in Dolphins folklore.
“He is a fantastic talent, and what I really liked about him is that he wasn’t scared of the big occasion. I always judge a player by how they come back from a setback or a loss. Anyone can do it when the team is winning, but he was never scared of losing. He will go a long way,” he said.
Inevitably, as Pietersen spoke of big talents and leading from the front, the conversation steered back to Australia, and the precocious Kagiso Rabada.
“Unbelievable.” Pietersen took a moment to get the rest of his point across, but that single word said much of a kid of 21, already leading a world-class attack and earning plaudits from a startled international audience.
“They have to just let him bowl,” he continued. “He is so gifted, and he just wants to play. The skills he has, and the maturity, it’s amazing!”
The brutal efficiency in which Rabada disposed of Aussie skipper Steve Smith in Hobart, when he roughed him up with a sincere bouncer and then nicked him off with a classic leg-cutter, had Pietersen and the rest of the commentary team in awe.
The former England captain said that the way that Rabada is managed was fundamental to a future that has the potential to be legendary, in every sense of the word.
“They just have to manage his load. You can see, he’s got so much energy and passion, and wants to just run in and bowl,” he said. “He had a few spells of nine, 10 overs and that workload has to be managed. I am sure Faf (du Plessis) and the management have it covered.”
With that load in mind, some had suggested that resting Rabada for the final Test in Adelaide wouldn’t be the worst thing, given that the series is already in the bag.
“He must play! Has to play. So many teams, including ones that I have been in, have copped massive hidings from Australia in the past. It’s a really good time to be South African in Australia right now,” Pietersen chuckled.
“So if you have the chance to give them a 3-0 thrashing in their own backyard, you have to go for it.”
Right now, of course, the priority is Pietersen’s own game time ahead of another busy schedule of T20 assignments around the world. Jumping on a plane and spending four days in the company of the Dolphins may seem a bit peculiar to some, but he is adamant that there is method to his international zig-zags.
Knowing what he did last summer, the Dolphins will hope to send him back to Australia in high spirits, with a victory over his old adversary Boucher and his high-flying Titans.
Do that, and it would have been definitely worth putting the golf sticks on ice this week.