Australia v England, 3rd Test, Perth December 12, 2006

Pietersen sounds rallying call

Kevin Pietersen has sounded a rallying call to his team-mates ahead of the third Test © Getty Images
England's net session at the WACA today marked the start of what, in Kevin Pietersen's estimation, is "a huge, huge week" for the team. "It's crunch time," he told the press in Perth, as England faced up to the prospect of a make-or-break Ashes showdown. "We'll be coming out all guns blazing, wanting positive cricket. We mean business and we know what we need to do. I don't want to be sitting here next week talking about being 3-0 down."

Pietersen is never a man to dwell on a difficult situation, and his pre-Test rallying cry was predictably gung-ho. "The boys have been put through their paces massively today," he added, "and from the first ball that was bowled this afternoon, it was 90mph-plus. Our training sessions are huge for us, and we need to up it to Test intensity."

Even so, there is a feeling in the Australian camp that all this Sturm und Drang has arrived at least two Tests too late. At the exact time that England were going through their motions, a loud and celebratory function was taking place in a nearby marquee. Among the guest speakers was a certain Glenn McGrath, who announced over the microphone that he was "disappointed" how one-sided the Ashes battle had so far been.

And McGrath's sentiments were later echoed by Australia's vice-captain, Adam Gilchrist, who spoke cryptically about his team's wider goals and motivations before adding, damningly, that "the Ashes are not the be-all and end-all for this group."

"That's not disrespecting the title or what we're trying to achieve or what we lost last year, but there's other things around," added Gilchrist. "We're getting closer to achieving a goal that we set ourselves. That may not just be to win the Ashes, it might be something else within the group, and there's certainly a good vibe around as we pursue that goal. There's results, there's trophies, there's things where we stand up."

Gilchrist wouldn't go far as to say that Australia were gunning for a 5-0 clean sweep ("Pigeon might say it," he joked) but the underlying message from both players was clear. This Ashes campaign has been far, far too easy, and what is more, they no longer believe that England have the wherewithal to turn their fortunes around.

Everyone thought we'd come out here and it'd be level pegging, but if you get a champion in the corner he'll come back at you

Pietersen on the Australians

Not even Pietersen could sound quite as bullish as usual. "I don't think people realise how good a feat it was for us to beat Australia in England," he said. "Everyone thought we'd come out here and it'd be level pegging, but if you get a champion in the corner he'll come back at you. These blokes are a champion team, the best Australian team they'd had, and they've come back doubly hard.

Few have come back harder than Shane Warne, who masterminded that astounding last-day victory at Adelaide and now needs just six more wickets to become the first bowler to reach 700 in Tests. According to Gilchrist, he's buzzing with excitement already. "He's got a real spring in his step at the moment. He's been quite vocal within the group, really vibrant and energising the group. It's been really encouraging for a young guy like Adam Voges, seeing a 140-Test veteran so keen to get into the action.

"He was at his brilliant best in Adelaide," added Gilchrist. "He led us and we all followed. He knew the assistance was there from the wicket. He knew England had shut up shop and were trying to scramble, and he was like the vulture circling overhead but he couldn't get down to have a peck. He just had to remain patient and he did, allowing the pressure to build up for the guys to get results at the other end.

"There was a bit of a negative outlook on his performance in the first innings," added Gilchrist, after Warne had managed just 1 for 167 in 53 overs, "but that was a combination of a lot of thoughts. It was the best approach to keep England, and particularly Pietersen, in check. It took them a long, long time to get those runs. Warnie did the work, took the blows to his ego, but then got a sniff in the second innings and was back to his brilliant best. The view from behind the stumps was fantastic, that's why I play the game."

Pietersen's wicket was the key breakthrough for Australia. After his first-innings 158, he was bowled by the first ball he received from Warne second-time around. "To be fair I missed it, but we're all allowed to miss a ball occasionally," he shrugged. "It was not a pre-determined shot, it was a way I was going to play Warne. I work on four areas when I bat, and when balls are in different areas I look to score first, then defend. I thought it was there in my area, and I missed it. I'm not too fussed."

Pietersen on Flintoff: 'He's got that belief and he knows how good he is' © Getty Images
Even so, he wasn't entirely able to shrug off the incident. "I'm a really positive bloke but it was hard," he said. "I was in my bedroom that night and it was like 'how the heck could that have happened? Am I dreaming, is this for real?'. But at the end of the day it's one of the little wars lost. Warne is the greatest bowler who's ever played the game. It only takes one ball from a great man to knock you over. You can't really win the battle as a batsman."

England now face a major test of resolve, not least because of the doubts about the form and fitness of two of their key players. Andrew Flintoff trained with heavy strapping on his troublesome left ankle, while doubts continue to persist about Steve Harmison's mindset, after managing just one wicket for 288 in the first two Tests.

"I see him daily and Freddie just seems to be fine," insisted Pietersen. "He's got that belief and he knows how good he is. He's a true champion, the best allrounder in the world, so there's not a lot that can get to him."

"Steve's just a great bloke. Very giving, very thoughtful. He's such a nice guy you can't really hate him. If he has a bad day you pick him up because he's always there for everyone else. It's what the squad's about. We're all good mates and keep each other going. We work for each other and work as hard as we can with each other."

It'll take more than mateyness, however, to unsettle an Australian side in full steamroller mode.

Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo