• Invitational XI v England XI, Tour match, SCG

Pietersen finds form in lively knock

Daniel Brettig
November 14, 2013
Kevin Pietersen has been starved of time at the crease during England's warm-up © Getty Images

England XI 5 for 302 (Trott 84, Cook 81, Pietersen 57) trail CA Invitational XI 304 (Carters 94*, Nevill 83, Cowan 51, Finn 5-103, Broad 4-37) by two runs

About 40 minutes into his first substantial innings on tour, Kevin Pietersen decided he was ready for Brisbane. This is not known because he told anyone, but because at that point he began to treat England's final warm-up before the first Ashes Test as the sort of social match where umpires chug beers, fielders traipse on and off at their leisure and the making of big scores is less important than the settling of old ones.

Pietersen's belligerence took the form of playing a shot a ball, including reverse sweeps, slogs and steel-wristed drives. It coincided with the introduction of the young wrist spinner James Muirhead, a pupil of Shane Warne who experienced twirling the ball down at England's No. 4, now moving freely following a cortisone injection to alleviate chronic knee pain. The SCG Members Stand was pelted with several angry shots, as fielders scurried to cover both sweet hits and sour misses.

Muirhead eventually had his man, coaxing a slog that was well held by the substitute Daniel Hughes, and also took the wicket of Ian Bell, who edged behind. But Pietersen had shown that, as England wrestle injuries, a preparation interrupted by weather and a vexing choice for the third seam-bowling spot, they can be reassured their most destructive batsman's sense of nerve is perfectly intact.

This lively interlude arrived towards the end of a day that had otherwise gone smoothly enough for the visitors, as Stuart Broad, Steven Finn and Boyd Rankin combined smartly to wrap up the Invitational XI for 304, a happily cheap tally for Alastair Cook after they resumed at 5 for 271. Broad found a fine first ball of the morning to deceive Ryan Carters and, after Rankin claimed his first wicket of the innings, Finn scooped up his fifth.

Trott happy with workout

  • After the close, Jonathan Trott said that England had been encouraged by their workout, despite the understrength attack, and that Kevin Pietersen's knee seemed to be holding up well.
  • "I think Kev's pretty unique in the way he goes about his game and thinks about it, but it's always nice to see him in full flow and being confident even in warm-up games. It doesn't really count now, what the guys do. It's all about being ready and right for Brisbane on that first day. The way Kev goes about it might be different to someone else, but he looks in good form to me.
  • "Everyone has got a few runs, and is feeling good about the game. But you're not going to know exactly what nick you're in until you're in front of 40 or 50,000 people at Brisbane. It's more about getting prepared mentally for that, being ready for the challenge and a tight-knit unit. Everything seems to be coming together at the right time.
  • "You're not going to face the Australian A side every week. You're going to have to face state cricketers - and obviously with Sheffield Shield games going on, it's a bit tricky. I think we were pretty happy with this standard of bowling, three young seamers who ran in all day and were wanting to impress. They were a lot better than what people described. They gave us a good challenge."

Andy Flower, the team director, is now left to ponder a choice between Rankin's bounce and economy, Finn's more expensive wickets and Chris Tremlett's Australian experience, now three years distant. Finn also has past memories of facing Australia but they have grown less happy with each successive match, concluding on the disdainful treatment meted out to him by Brad Haddin on the fevered final morning of the Trent Bridge Test.

One decision has already been made by Flower, calling in Michael Carberry to open with the captain Alastair Cook while moving Joe Root down the order. Their 318-run union in Hobart made a briefer stand seem likely in Sydney, and so it was that Carberry edged a decent-enough ball from Josh Lalor through to Peter Nevill having made only 4.

Cook then settled down in the company of Jonathan Trott, and for 143 runs they were almost entirely untroubled. The scoring rate was brisk, the strokeplay assured and the strike rotation busy, and everyone at the ground was surprised when Trott reached out to edge Lalor behind and had to walk off. He did so as slowly as Shane Watson post hamstring injury, demonstrating a disappointment with self that suggested his mind has moved into its steeliest Test match mode.

A few overs later Cook was to be similarly disappointed about not going on well beyond three figures, hanging his bat out at Nic Bills and also offering a catch to Nevill behind the stumps. Nonethless, the wickets allowed Pietersen and Bell to have time in the middle, something they enjoyed before each falling to overly extravagant strokes.

Once the excitement subsided, Root and Bairstow played out the day, showing a far greater conservatism than the senior men who had preceded them. This was wise, for they are beginning a middle order axis that may be just as crucial to England's chances in the Ashes as Pietersen's well-developed sense of daring.

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here

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