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Pietersen ready for his century in test cricket

November 19, 2013

BRISBANE, Australia (AP) — For someone who grew up fighting, punching and kicking in endless rounds of ultra-competitive sporting clashes with his brothers in South Africa, reaching a milestone 100th test cricket cap for England truly must be quite surreal.

That’s how Kevin Pietersen describes it, anyway, and he’s the one who lived it.

Apart from having an English mother, his link with England as a youth, as he recounts it, was wearing the white jersey in the not-so-playful rugby matches against his brothers. The four boys wore different jerseys — South Africa, Australia, England, France — to avoid confusion.

Two days ahead of the Ashes series opener in Brisbane, Pietersen was asked which country he’d dreamed of representing when he was growing up in Natal. A fair question, even if it came from an Australian.

“You’re not going to believe this, mate, I had an England jersey on whenever we played rugby on the front lawn,” he said, “And you can ask my brothers.” The Pietersen brothers, as it transpired, just happened to be en route to Brisbane.

“I know it’s a leading question,” he continued, after pausing for effect. “No, where I’ve ended up I would never have dreamt it, but I’m so lucky and so proud to be where I am.”

He left South Africa for England as a disgruntled teen because “I wanted to chase my dream of playing international sport.” Now, he’s set to become just the 10th England player to earn 100 test caps.

“It was the furthest thing from my mind thinking that I’d ever play for England, let alone play as much as I’ve played,” he said. “We grew up incredibly competitive ... it was an incredibly tough upbringing. Competition was all that mattered.

“I went to England as a spin bowler, I turned out to be a batter. So I can’t sit here and say I wanted to bat No. 3, or 4, or 5 and wanted to score 10,000 test runs, or whatever I’ve got, it just fell into place. I don’t know.”

The arrival of the larger-than-life Pietersen in the test squad in 2005 coincided with England’s resurgence, particularly against old foe Australia. And while his presence has been fractious at times, he has certainly contributed to a successful combination. The English squad heads into this series aiming to win the urn for a fourth straight time, and that is Pietersen’s primary concern.

“At the moment I just see it as an Ashes series, the start of an important Ashes series — one which we’ve come to win,” Pietersen told a news conference Tuesday. “Talking about the 100th test match is a weird feeling for me. It’s hard for me to sit here and talk about myself.”

That kind of statement might surprise a few critics.

Pietersen was greeted with a torrent of tabloid treatment from Brisbane’s daily newspaper, which described him as the “walking ego of world cricket” under a front-page photo.

He responded with a few barbs, seen briefly by some of his 1.4 million-plus followers on Twitter, before removing the “tongue-in-cheek” posts so they wouldn’t be too widely misinterpreted. Too late. More headlines.

“I would have preferred a front page in Sydney but,” he said to raucous laughter. Ever the showman, and sensing the mood, he continued: “I respect the journalists in Australia for having a go at the English and trying to club me. That’s what Ashes cricket is about.”

Pietersen is used to generating headlines. He spent time away from the team last year after sending comments about his teammates, including then skipper Andrew Strauss, to South African players. He said his “reintegrating” into the national team has been smooth.

“We’re getting on really well, we’re all winning together,” he said. “We’ve all played a lot of cricket together.

“These things happen. You have it in all walks of life. You have ups and downs. We all make mistakes.”

Pietersen said he has learned from his mistakes — he even had lunch with Strauss this week — and it has helped prolong his career.

“There has been some real good stuff and I’ve really enjoyed the journey. Where my career is at now, I don’t think I can be any happier,” he said. “Clearly there’s been some bad stuff, which has been well documented. As a person you grow when you make mistakes. That’s where you learn the most. If I hadn’t have learnt, I wouldn’t be sitting here on the eve of my 100th test match.”

Pietersen has already accumulated 7,887 test runs at an average of 48.38 and said he wants to reach 10,000 before retiring. He also wants to win the 2015 World Cup and score a century against South Africa in 2015-16, to complete a set of home-and-away hundreds against all the test teams.

Accusations that he’s arrogant are just mistaken interpretations of his confidence, he said.

“I’ve got to be confident in my ability,” he said. “Clearly, as a South African coming into England, I had to really fight some tough battles and had to be single-minded in achieving what I’ve had to try and achieve.

“I call it confidence. You guys call it arrogance, it makes for better headlines.”

His individual nature, bravado and unique style have divided opinion in England, where his talents as a batsman are highly valued, regardless.

Asked, by an Englishman, if he felt he was regarded differently by the public as an adopted rather than a native-born England player, Pietersen didn’t quite know the answer.

“Good question. Not sure. Not 100 percent sure,” he said. “I can’t go either way on it. Some days I feel yes, some days I feel no.”

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