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Pietersen aspires to be world number one

LONDON: Audacity, self-belief and an ability to improvise bordering on genius combine to make Kevin Pietersen the most exciting batsman currently strutting the world stage.

In an age of increasingly dizzy run rates there are no shortages of pretenders to Pietersen's unofficial title.

One shot alone in the second test against Sri Lanka last month lifts Pietersen from the pack, however, and puts him alongside such masters of the unorthodox as Denis Compton and Viv Richards.

On the second day of the test at Edgbaston, Pietersen decided to employ a reverse swing against the consistently dangerous Muttiah Muralitharan.

Daring enough in itself, the stroke became an instant masterpiece when the ball soared high into the stands for a six.

The self-confidence which infuses Pietersen's batting has been evident since he announced he was unhappy with South Africa's quota system for black players and decamped to England, the birthplace of his mother.

After three increasingly fraught years at Nottingham he joined Hampshire and the county's Australian captain Shane Warne, in many ways a Pietersen prototype.

After serving his qualifying period, he was selected to tour Zimbabwe in September 2004, averaging 104 in three innings. In the following year he showed his appetite for a fight when he was similarly effective in the face of a raucous and hostile reception during the one-day series in South Africa.

Despite his pyrotechnics in the one-day game, Pietersen was not picked to play against Bangladesh at the start of the 2005 series and was far from an automatic choice for the first test against Australia at Lord's.

In the end, after much debate and consultation, the selectors concluded that 25-year-old Pietersen was a better bet than 35-year-old Graham Thorpe.

Rarely can a hunch have been rewarded so swiftly.

Pietersen top-scored in both innings of a losing match and, indicative of his self-assurance, he deliberately targeted Australia's two best bowlers.

Glenn McGrath had made the England top order look like schoolboys. Pietersen responded with a four, six and a four from successive deliveries. He then turned his attention to Warne, hitting the leg spinner into the grandstand.

There was also the little matter of three dropped catches, which did not appear to bother Pietersen in the slightest. Instead he seemed puzzled when questioned at an end-of-day news conference.

"That's part of cricket," he said. "Everybody's going to drop catches, no one's gone through a career and not dropped a catch, I don't think."

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