The double act finally works together
They were an impressive double act on the field, dominating a balmy afternoon in which England slammed 157 runs in 27 overs, and Andrew Flintoff and Kevin Pietersen did a passable comedy routine after a sharp shower brought an early end to a hectic day just after England were all out for 407.
Flintoff was delighted to have got a score on the board at last, after a double failure with that broad blade at Lord's. "It was nice to get a few out of the middle of the bat," he said, admitting that one of his five sixes - a casual flick to leg off Brett Lee - wasn't really planned. "One of them was a fluke, I tried to get out of it and it just went straight into the middle of the bat," he smiled, pulling a face.
And Flintoff said that England's helter-skelter progress - they romped along at more than five an over - wasn't exactly a team strategy. "We got a very good start - Marcus Trescothick and Andrew Strauss played well at the top of the order. The wicket was slightly slow, and here at Birmingham if you hit it past the fielder it does go for four. I don't think it was any premeditated way of playing, I think it just occurred like that. We're pleased to get 400 on the board - after last week it's good to give the bowlers something to bowl at."
England fans everywhere have been licking their lips at the prospect of a big Flintoff-Pietersen partnership, and they got it today. "It was great," said Flintoff. "I've been letting my side of the bargain down for a while now, haven't I, so it was nice to spend some time with him in the middle. If we bat together, I think we're going to score quickly. He's in fine form, and hopefully I'm coming into some myself."
Pietersen said that he was quite happy to play second fiddle: "He batted real well today - I'm just thrilled Freddie's back in the runs. It was good to watch. We're mature players, it's just a case of adapting. It would have been stupid for me to try to outhit him and get out. I thought we played off each other real well."
And Pietersen wasn't surprised at the run avalanche: "We've got a lot of positive players in our team. To get 400 was a great effort."
A different double act emerged from the Australian dressing-room. Glenn McGrath's pre-match purler meant a surprise call-up for Michael Kasprowicz: "Yeah, it was a pretty amazing day all round," he admitted. "I turned up expecting to have plenty of coffee and tea, and cake - and end up playing in a Test match. Obviously I feel sorry for Glenn, but as bowlers you know that injuries are going to happen. I didn't place the ball though!"
That wasn't the end of the excitement either. "And then they went at five runs an over all day! These things happen, there are no rules against attacking cricket." But he admitted that the Australians had had better days. "The wicket seemed to be quite slow, on the low side. I found I had to bowl a bit fuller than usual. It was fantastic strokeplay - but the bowlers have to look at ourselves, we didn't execute as well as we could."
Kasprowicz thought the pitch hadn't lived up to its post-typhoon publicity: "It looks a 400-plus track for us too, because it's going to dry out a bit more. It's a good wicket, which I suppose is the surprise after what was written about it earlier in the week."
McGrath, a solemn figure on crutches, was the last man standing in the press conference, accompanied by Errol Alcott, the long-serving Aussie physio. "I knew before I hit the ground that I was out of this match," admitted McGrath, "but I'm hoping to be fit for Trent Bridge [the fourth Test] at worst."
He explained how the accident happened. "I was just standing there with Brad Haddin. I turned to chase a ball, and my first step planted straight on top of a cricket ball that was on the ground. I'd seen them laid out earlier and thought how neat they looked ... it was just one of those things."
Alcott, who refused to rule McGrath out of next week's third Test (although the crutches looked like a heavy hint), confirmed with a grimace that the accident happened at 9.15am - "about a minute before we were going to call everyone together for a different drill." The injured ankle is McGrath's right one - "I've done the left one a few times," he remembered, "but I don't think I've done anything to this one since I was about 16."
McGrath might be out of this match, but he isn't giving it up. Australia will be batting themselves tomorrow, and after that: "The way Warnie was spinning it on day one ..." You have been Warned.
Steven Lynch is deputy editor of the Wisden Group