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Pietersen wary of silent assassin Muralitharan

CRICKET: Kevin Pietersen may have once disdainfully reverse-swept Muttiah Muralitharan for six but that hasn't lessened the England batsman's respect for the Sri Lankan spin wizard.

The South Africa-born strokeplayer's extraordinary shot during the course of a century in last year's Edgbaston Test will live long in the memory of all who saw it.

Now England will hope for similar heroics when they face Sri Lanka in a World Cup Super Eights match at the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium here Wednesday.

"It's just a case of watching the ball, trying to pick him and trying to hit your areas when you're facing Murali because he's a special bowler," said Pietersen, now rated the world's leading one-day international batsman.

"Murali doesn't say a lot, he just winds you up and winds you up because he knows he's going to get you out. He just smiles and laughs.

"He's a really happy guy, a nice guy - I call him the silent assassin - he has so much talk on the cricket ball he doesn't have to say much."

And Pietersen, 26, said the off-spinner, a key member of the Sri Lanka side that won the World Cup in 1996, was even trickier to cope with than his friend and Hampshire captain Shane Warne, the Australia leg-spin great and Test cricket's leading wicket-taker. "He's a true great of the game. Muralitharan is the hardest bowler in the world to face, definitely - even more difficult than Warne."

England's bid for a World Cup semi-final spot is about to enter a potentially decisive few days.

After the Sri Lanka match, they take on world champions Australia in Antigua on Sunday.

Having failed to carry through any points after losing to Group C winners New Zealand in the first round, England know that losing twice this week will all but end their World Cup challenge.

"It's a massive week for us," said Pietersen of an England side that have failed to impress during victories over non-Test nations Canada, Kenya and Ireland.

"We cannot finish on Sunday with no points from these two games. "I know there is a small mathematical chance of going through if we win the last three games, but we've got to get at least another two points out of this week and the guys are upbeat about it.

ST JOHN'S, Antigua, Monday AFP

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