JOHANNESBURG: South Africa will be the ironic setting Saturday when controversial England batsman Kevin Pietersen returns to action, playing for Delhi Daredevils in the Champions League Twenty20 competition.
Pietersen is hugely unpopular in his homeland -- judged by radio talk show comments this week -- after claims that South African players provoked him into sending messages critical of his England teammates during a recent Test series.
The text-message storm during the second of three Tests in England led to the 32-year-old being dumped by his adopted country and missing the World Twenty20 championship in Sri Lanka.
No sooner had England and Pietersen mended relations last week than a new storm broke with England and Wales Cricket Board chief executive David Collier alleging South African players trapped the batsman into texting messages.
“Absolute rubbish,” said Cricket South Africa acting chief executive Jacques Faul, and the national cricket players' association demanded an apology with Proteas Test skipper Graeme Smith to the fore.
“We talk a lot about values and our approach to the game. We play hard but we play fair and any suggestion that we did this as a tactic is totally unwarranted and unnecessary,” said Smith.
Pietersen is desperate to put the controversy behind him and get back to scoring runs, starting with an all-India group fixture against Kolkata Knight Riders at SuperSport Park in Centurion on the Johannesburg-Pretoria highway.
Daredevils are coached by former South Africa Test bowler Eric Simons and the 15-man squad includes Morne Morkel, part of the South Africa team that defeated England 2-0 to become the No 1 ranked Test nation.