Tuesday, December 15, 2009

South Africa's bowlers plan to target the out-of form Kevin Pietersen

Kevin Pietersen will come under pressure on his return to Test cricket tomorrow as South Africa are planning to target England's premier batsman to undermine his confidence. Graeme Smith, the South Africa captain, says he aims to prolong the frustrations of the out-of-form Pietersen following his five-month lay-off following surgery on an achilles tendon.

"We've worked on a few interesting game-plans to him and hopefully we can put them into place," Smith said. "Since injury he is searching for a bit of confidence and we want to keep him under the pressure we have done through the one-day series and tour so far.

"With regards to off-the-field stuff, that is out of our control and we're going to focus on playing England man for man and hopefully be better than them. Kevin is carrying the burden for comments that he has made over a period of time, so we've just got to live with those and get on and hopefully cricket will be the winner."

England's captain, Andrew Strauss, is confident that his Pietersen can play his first meaningful innings of the tour. "I think KP found himself in quite an unfamiliar situation at the start of this tour. He had been playing cricket almost continuously for God knows how long and it's probably the first time in his England career he has had time away and had to find his feet again, so that's taken some adjusting to and you have to build your way up through the gears.

"I am very happy with the way he has been going about things; he has been training exceptionally hard. I think he has looked better and better and KP being the type of person he is, he will want to have a massive impact on the series."

Strauss has challenged his players to take the initiative with aggressive cricket in the opening session. "A Test series here is always going to be like that," he said. "Both teams have had 10 days twiddling their thumbs waiting for this day and there are going to be 22 players pretty keen to make their mark on the series.

"As is often the case, the first day, the first session, can have a big impact on the way the series goes. You won't win it in that session but you can grab the momentum."

England are looking for a repeat of their series win here five years ago – though they lost at home to South Africa last year – and Strauss added: "I am very keen for players to stand up and be counted in pressure situations and if you are not willing to do that, you are not going to survive in Test cricket very long."

South Africa have not played a Test for nine months and must beat England 2-0 or better to regain the No1 status from India. England are also under-prepared, having not played a first-class match since they arrived six weeks ago. But Strauss claimed that his side are ready. "I think you are prepared if you are mentally in the right place," he said. "We have had quite a big gap since the one-dayers and had enough time to prepare mentally. We haven't had a four-day game in terms of getting a complete replica of Test [cricket] but I am comfortable where we are; the feeling in the camp is pretty boisterous and happy and excited about what is to come. We are aware we need to have our games [switched] on tomorrow morning. You can't afford to ease into any Test cricket."

Strauss admitted that he could not read the pitch on the eve of the match. "I am still not 100% sure how that wicket will play. We turned up for one of the Champions Trophy matches here and it did look very good but ended up playing pretty well. At this stage [it] looks like quite a lot of green grass on it and we have all three options left open to us, but won't be naming the side until the morning."

England have a full squad to pick from, though the spinner Graeme Swann is still carrying a niggling side injury and has James Tredwell standing by.

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