The South Africa captain Graeme Smith has warned Kevin Pietersen he faces a hostile reception when the first Test begins tomorrow. But Smith insisted there was no tension between England star batsman and the South African players. Pietersen, who was born in Pietermaritzburg and made his first-class debut for Natal in 1997 before moving to England after voicing his displeasure at the racial quota system in place in South Africa, was given a tough time on his last tour in 2005.
Smith said of the reception that Pietersen could expect: "He obviously gets a hostile reception from South African fans because he's made a lot of remarks about the country that I don't think he's ever apologised for. It's hard for people just to wash away those things and I think that's why people still give him a hard time. "It creates a little bit of tension towards him. Our job is to play the game. From my perspective there's certainly no tension going into the game.
"It's up to the players to get on with it. You want the game of cricket to be remembered for some fantastic cricket. That's how I want cricket to be viewed by the fans and by the media. "We've all moved on and got on with our lives. He [Pietersen] has really performed well in his international career. There's a cricket respect there." Smith also maintained on BBC Radio 5 Live's Sportsweek programme that there were no problems between himself and the England captain Andrew Strauss despite a confrontation in the one-day series
Smith asked for a runner towards the end of his innings of 141 in a losing cause at Centurion when he was hampered by cramp. But Strauss, intent on putting down a marker ahead of the Tests, refused. Smith said: "There's always going to be differences of opinion between two captains of opposite nations, but there's very much a mutual respect. "I've always said Andrew comes across as an intelligent guy, obviously captaincy is bringing out a different side to him. He's performed well and he seems to be managing the side well. There's no bad blood whatsoever."
England will be under orders to square up to South Africa if their hosts turn into bullies this winter - as selector Ashley Giles suspects they might. The former England spinner is well aware of the confrontations which may be in store in the four-Test series. But he has great faith in Andrew Strauss's team's ability to stand firm and together. "You have to go toe to toe with these guys," he said.
Giles made his own Test debut against South Africa and went on to face them 10 times in a 54-cap career - including a five-match tour which ended in an England victory the last time they were in South Africa, in 2004-05. "They're tough to beat on their own territory and will try to bully you a little bit and push you around," he added. "But I think we've got a side in really good shapet." The factor England have been keen to stress ever since they began this 11-week trip is the team ethos being developed by Strauss and the coach, Andy Flower. "The team spirit is fantastic, and the work ethic has been second to none on any England tour I've seen before," Giles said.
"Everyone has a role and supports one another. That's a pretty good start and means you've got a very good chance." South Africa have just been toppled by India from the No 1 spot in the Test rankings, and Giles is well aware of their capabilities. "It is going to be a tough challenge. But the pressure is on them as well," he said. "They have just lost the one-day series [to England] here. We'll take confidence from that."
Meanwhile, the Pakistan openers Imran Farhat and Salman Butt compiled a century partnership to haul their side back from the brink in the decisive third Test in Napier yesterday. New Zealand had opened up a first-innings lead of 248 as their captain Daniel Vettori's century and a Test-best 80 not out from Daryl Tuffey saw them to 471 despite Danish Kaneria's seven-wicket haul. Farhat (55) and Butt (66) took Pakistan to 128 without loss in their second innings at the close yesterday, which meant they started the fourth day's play this morning still trailing by 120 runs.
* With agencies