England wanted him to bat No. 4 before the series December 29, 2006

Pietersen slow to follow team plan

Kevin Pietersen's rise to four at the MCG was not a success © Getty Images

Kevin Pietersen was only convinced of a move to No. 4 when he realised England's brittle tail was limiting his batting opportunities. Shortly before John Buchanan questioned Pietersen's commitment to the touring team, Duncan Fletcher revealed the England management had been trying to get its most gifted player to leave his favoured place at five since before the Ashes series.

After being stuck with the struggling lower order for three consecutive innings in Perth and Melbourne, Pietersen finally decided to shift mid-match at the MCG and arrived ahead of Paul Collingwood. Pietersen made only 1 before being bowled aiming a drive off Stuart Clark as England fell to their fourth defeat of the contest.

"We've been trying to get him to four but he just feels very, very comfortable at five," Fletcher said. "Then Kevin discussed with us that he was batting with the tail a lot and he wanted to bat four. We said 'Are you sure you want to? He said he'd rather do that than be caught with the tail that we've got at the moment."

England's original top four batsmen were used to blunt Australia's attack in the hope Pietersen and Andrew Flintoff could provide a surge in the middle, but Flintoff has been shut down and Australia have rushed through the tail. Despite the imbalance and the direction of the series, Pietersen was unable to shelve his personal feelings until after his seventh innings.

Pietersen, who has scored 420 runs at 60 in the series, will be used at second drop in Sydney from Tuesday and be followed by Collingwood. Fletcher said Collingwood was ready to "do what's best for the team" and knew Pietersen was the better player. "Colly realised we were not using Kevin's full potential," Fletcher said.

The difficulty in getting Pietersen to fit in with the side's plan was highlighted by Buchanan when he said Pietersen seemed to be distanced from the group. "He talks about how much of a team man he is, but I can't see that," Buchanan said. Pietersen was one of four England players who did not attend the team's large Christmas lunch the day before the Test.

Buchanan has also noticed Pietersen spending a lot of time fielding on the boundary when his skills could be used better inside the ring. "I wonder whether the criticism of him is because he's different from the group," Buchanan said. "Difference is important in a team dynamic, we have some different players in our team, but it's how the difference is managed."

Concerns over the size of England's tour group, which has expanded to almost 100 and includes the players' families, have been raised as possible distractions to the side, which heads to Sydney trying to avoid a cleansweep. However, Fletcher said the arrangements were similar to previous trips and would be reviewed when they returned home.

"We have it in England when they are on the tour there," he said. "We see it as no different. When we go back there we play seven Tests and the wives will be there for all of them. We just believe that with the amount of cricket that's played that people are as comfortable off the field as they are on the field."

Peter English is the Australasian editor of Cricinfo