Australia v England, 2nd Test, Adelaide, 1st day December 1, 2006

Pietersen outwits the master

Gone were the sociable smiles, friendly pats on the back and appreciative nods of each other's vast abilities. Kevin Pietersen and Shane Warne were friends-turned-foes at Adelaide today and, most intriguingly of all as far as this series is concerned, Wa



Power and patience © Getty Images

Gone were the sociable smiles, friendly pats on the back and appreciative nods of each other's vast abilities. Kevin Pietersen and Shane Warne were friends-turned-foes at Adelaide today and, most intriguingly of all as far as this series is concerned, Warne is on the back foot.

The duel began at Brisbane. Fielding a fiercely struck ball, Warne threw it impetuously back to Adam Gilchrist, narrowly avoiding Pietersen's head. He swayed to his left, flicking up the bat and top-edged the ball past Gilchrist. Brows furrowed, eyes narrowed, pleasantries were exchanged and the love affair was over. The crowd's hard-earned dollars hadn't been wasted, in spite of Australia's dominance.

Pietersen thrives on the close-combat skirmishes which come from facing a spinner, but also in the personal challenge of beating the bowler - literally, if possible. That Warne is a close friend hasn't doused the fire, rather fuelled it with dynamite. The Australians have said the best way to subdue Brian Lara is to ignore him, not to antagonise or sledge him and the same might be said of Pietersen in future years. Or even at the end of this series if he continues to dominate Warne in the same emphatic manner as he did today.

True, the pitch was flat and Australia seemed to sit back for much of the day, but Pietersen took to Warne like a shark scenting blood. Mischievous half-steps down the pitch before each delivery upset Warne's length, allowing Pietersen to rock back and cut him safely, powerfully through the covers. The master of line and length, the deliverer of the "ball on a string" - Warne was being toyed like a rag-doll by a young English batsman. He was even forced to bowl around the wicket into the rough - which even Ashley Giles doesn't do all that often any more.

In fact it was at this point that, in series past, Warne would have outwitted England. Bowling a foot outside Pietersen's leg stump, he was enticing him to sweep, or drive across the line, or succumb to frustration. Yet Pietersen wouldn't be tempted and a firm, stubborn left pad was thrust out to block ball after ball. Only when Warne dropped short, as he did several times, did he make him pay; crucially, Pietersen never missed out, slamming each of Warne's long-hops ferociously hard to the extra-cover boundary. Warne did not know what to do or where to bowl. Gilchrist's "ooh nice, Shane" phrases were barely audible.

Pietersen did the same to Muttiah Muralitharan in the summer, famously reverse-sweeping him for six. Then, as now, people wondered if there had ever been a better English player of spin. Now, though, Pietersen has shown an even more exciting aspect to his development: the mental wherewithal to outwit even the very best. Warne could yet have the final say over Pietersen in this match, but today he was outfoxed by his closest mate. So much for chumminess marring a contest.

Will Luke is editorial assistant of Cricinfo