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Batsman “KP” goes shooting

By the time you read this, the England cricket team ought to have got themselves back on track after the poor performances in the Ashes down under and the Caribbean World Cup with a victory over the touring West Indians in the first Test at Lord?s. On paper, it should be a one-sided contest, especially in early-season English conditions; but nothing is ever a nailed-on certainty in this sport ? unless you are Australian. The wet weather we have had so far in May, may have ruined the party.

If England are to succeed (fear not, I?ll come to the shooting soon), they will likely need another strong showing from top-order batsman Kevin Pietersen, the only player to enhance his reputation after his performance in the famous Ashes win in 2005. Even in England?s limp World Cup campaign, South African-born Pietersen scored a couple of centuries and ended the tournament as the number one ranked one-day international batsman.

As such, the big hitter is hot property in corporate and media circles, and it was a slightly dazed Kevin Pietersen who donned jacket, glasses and ear protectors to shoot clays at the West London Shooting School, which has been attracting high-profile shooters since 1901. Despite having only shot once before, it cameas no surprise that he was useful with a 12 bore, using his polished hand-eye co-ordination to hone in on clays under the supervision of WLSS general manager Jonathan Irby.

Pietersen has a commercial tie-up as a Volkswagen ?ambassador? and is one of several high-profile sports personalities who drivesa VW model. KP runs one of the new 4×4 Touaregs that include the latest technologyto combat challenging terrain. It certainly made short work of the off-road course at WLSS.

VW hopes to expand into the affluent shooting market and sponsors the shooting school. Journalists were invited to take on the Hampshire batsman at a cricket-themed shoot-out in front of the school?s pavilion. Under the rules, we were paired up in a batting partnership and both batsmen received an over (six clays) each. Before each ball was bowled, the batsman nominated whether he or she wanted to hit a single, two runs, three, four or go for a big six, all graded according to increasing difficulty.

The single was a gentle clay going away in front; the two came from left to right; the three wasa bolting rabbit; four was a speedy partridge that came flat from over your left shoulder out of the boot of a Touareg; the six was a high, far pheasant that circled and dropped. It would puff into pink smoke when hit. Having posted a score, KP would try to beat it. Given his partner was European side-by-side champion Mark Marshall, this often proved a formality. For the record, the media managed a top score of 35 from a possible maximum of 72, while many of us scored far less! Mark would bail him out if needed, but KP was more than adept, rising to the challenge and thriving on the competition. And when you are used to facing the speed and guile of fellow VW ambassadors Freddie Flintoff or Shane Warne in the nets, a passing clay at 40mph holds little fear.

Out in the middle, body language is one of KP?s greatest weapons, standing tall, chest puffed out, sleeves rolled up, biceps flexed. That swagger was less pronounced at the shooting stand, but he still has an intimidating presence and is not short of a sledge or two. ?Come on, mate, you missed that. You?re meant to do this for a living, no? You were miles behind it!? KP finished the day unbeaten. But far from being a crowing victor he was quick to laugh at himself. ?I?m absolutely delighted,? he said, ?it?s the first thing I?ve won all winter!? And if this summer does not prove more successful, he may have a future in a very different sport.