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Cricket: GRUDGE MATCH; Pietersen Notts welcome - Mick.

Byline: By RICHARD SYDENHAM

NOTTINGHAMSHIRE coach Mick Newell believes Kevin Pietersen can expect a frosty reception when he returns to Trent Bridge on Wednesday.

Pietersen, 24, who left his native South Africa in 2000 to qualify for England by virtue of his English mother, topped the Notts batting averages for three of the four seasons he was there and averaged over 50 each year.

But ill-feeling between Pietersen and the county bubbled over when he asked to leave before the 2004 season, with a year remaining on his contract.

He even threatened legal action, while former skipper Jason Gallian was reported to have thrown Pietersen's kit off the players' balcony after an argument.

Pietersen eventually signed for Hampshire a year ago when his contract expired and the relationship between club and player had deteriorated so much that his return sets up one of the most reluctant reunions possible on the county circuit.

'It probably wouldn't be going too far to call it a grudge match,' said Newell. 'People know that he didn't leave in the best of circumstances.

'He left at a time when his contract was up so we didn't have a problem with that, even though we offered him another deal to stay because he's such a good player. As a free agent he could play for whoever he wanted.

'What we didn't like was the way he tried to leave the club when he still had a year left to run,' said Newell. 'He could have handled things a lot better. The ill-feeling from that was never really forgotten.'

Despite a first round exit in the C&G Trophy, Notts have not missed Pietersen too much in the four-day game, starting last week's round of matches in second place to Hampshire in the County Championship's First Division.

Gallian, Darren Bicknell, David Hussey and new skipper Stephen Fleming have all featured near the top of the championship batting averages. New Zealand captain and their record run-scorer Fleming, drafted in to skipper Notts with flair and plunder his fair share of the runs, has done just that, scoring 238 against Surrey. The early success has softened the blow of losing 'KP'.

'I have no doubts that Flem will score the same amount of runs as KP so his departure has not weakened our team,' said Newell. 'But when Flem came to our club I would have liked to give him the best possible team so it's unfortunate in that respect.'

Pietersen may get a reprieve from the cauldron awaiting him at Trent Bridge should he receive a late call-up for England's second Test against Bangladesh at Chester-le-Street. He would be the obvious replacement for any of England's batsmen.

The England selectors are sure to debate whether Graham Thorpe should be able to play his 100th Test after he announced last week that he will be coaching at New South Wales in Australia from January and effectively ending his international career.

But with Thorpe's experience, impressive stats and desire to quit after an Ashes series victory, it is unlikely chairman of selectors David Graveney would have the ruthlessness to leave him stranded on 99 Tests.

Pietersen, therefore, will likely come face to face with his former team-mates and a Trent Bridge crowd that will not forget his disloyalty in a hurry. After all, it was Notts and its former cricket manager Clive Rice that gave him a way out of the South African cricket system in 2000 that he has subsequently criticised.

'I expect the reception he'll receive from the players and the supporters will reflect the manner in which he left the club,' said Newell. 'There was a lot of ill-feeling around with the way he tried to leave. I don't expect our players to sledge him too much though, because, like he showed in the one-dayers in South Africa when he scored those three hundreds, that kind of thing doesn't bother him too much. He'll never receive a reception any more hostile than he did then

CAPTION(S):

ILL FEELING: Kevin Pietersen is due to return to Trent Bridge
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Sunday Mercury (Birmingham, England)
Date:May 29, 2005
Words:681
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