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Kevin Pietersen previously has opened for England.
Kevin Pietersen previously has opened for England.

Opener Kevin Pietersen pads up for 'toughest' test of career

The middle-order bat has struggled against Pakistan spin in the UAE and the DRS has taken away the comfort zone of benefit of doubt.

DUBAI // Kevin Pietersen concedes he is facing the toughest challenge of his career as he attempts to establish himself as a one-day international opener for England.

Pietersen has so far mustered laboured contributions of 14 and 26, in half-century stands with prolific first-wicket partner and captain Alastair Cook, as England have gone up 2-0 against Pakistan with two to play.

Both innings, a world away from the dominant batting for which he has long been known, have paled in comparison to the fluency of Cook in his back-to-back hundreds at the top of the order.

Pietersen has struggled against Pakistan spin in the UAE; Saeed Ajmal has got him out four times already here, in Tests and now ODIs. But he made it clear yesterday that his return to the opening position is for keeps.

Pietersen previously opened, briefly, before injury intervened, at last year's World Cup. Even so, before he can begin to think about doing the job back in England, he needs to find an answer to Ajmal and others.

The advent of DRS and near bounce-less surfaces in the Middle East have made all batsmen, not just Pietersen, hostages to fortune if ball hits pad rather than bat these days.

"In my career so far, this is the toughest I've ever found it," he said. "Because of this new DRS system, there are definitely technical issues you have to look at in order to save yourself from batters not getting the benefit of the doubt any more."

As well as his troubles against the off-spinner Ajmal, Pietersen has been seen off twice by the slow left-armer Abdur Rehman and once by the leg-spinner Shahid Afridi.

Asked if he has had to change his technique to try to cope, Pietersen said: "Yes. But it's not just me. Left-arm spinners now are gold dust. Umpires are giving a lot more lbws, and it just has to be clipping [the stumps, according to computer simulation] - like a couple of those games we played in - and you're out.

"Two, three, four years ago you were never ever out."

Pietersen is optimistic, nonetheless, that he can become a regular opening partner for Cook, home and abroad, on the way to the 2015 World Cup.

He said he has spoken to coach Andy Flower about it. "Andy wants it to be permanent; Cooky wants it to be permanent," Pietersen said. "It's something that we're definitely looking to."

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Misbah-ul-Haq, the Pakistan captain, has called for his batsmen to put up a stronger fight after they failed to chase down targets of 261 and 251 in the first two one-day matches

"We have to really improve our batting," the Pakistan captain said yesterday.

In the Tests and one-dayers both the teams were struggling in their batting and most of the time it was the bowling that was saving both."

Misbah refused to single out an individual for blame and said everyone had to shoulder responsibility.

"Even in the Sri Lankan series our lower-middle order was not contributing," he said of his team's 4-1 win in November last year. Today's match sees the return of the former captain Shoaib Malik, who was dropped for the second game.

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