Reverse-swing could decide Ashes - Pietersen
England is currently on a heatwave alert, but far from making the Australians feel at home Kevin Pietersen believes it can help the home side win the Ashes. The predicted hot, dry summer would aid the bowlers in getting the ball to reverse swing, a factor that proved crucial during the 2005 Ashes series, and Pietersen said it can work again.
Four years ago England's four quicks - Steve Harmison, Matthew Hoggard, Simon Jones and Andrew Flintoff - caused no end of problems with reverse swing, while the Australian bowlers found little in return. Of that attack only Flintoff remains from the current generation, but James Anderson and Stuart Broad have developed rapidly over the last 12 months.
There has been much speculation around the make-up of England's five-pronged attack for the series. A balance of three quicks and two spinners is looking increasingly likely, but while England's advantage in the slow-bowling department is being stoked up Pietersen reckons the fast bowlers can also have a decisive impact.
"I'm sure the Australians are probably hoping that the weather doesn't stay like this, because Anderson, Broad, Flintoff bowling reverse swing - I wouldn't want to be facing that," he said. "We're going to be really tough to play against. If batters do conquer our reverse-swing, I look forward to watching them. It will take some serious batting against those bowlers, all at 90mph, reverse-swinging it both ways."
Anderson is especially threatening with the older ball and Pietersen believes he will be a huge handful for the visitors. "When I saw Anderson doing it at Durham against the West Indies, I said 'how do you face that?' I know as a batsman who goes okay against swing bowling, to face that is the biggest test of all."
Pietersen has been doing plenty of homework on the Australians ahead of the series with regular phone calls to his friends in the South Africa team who faced them earlier this year. Jacques Kallis and Mark Boucher, who Pietersen played alongside for Royal Challengers Bangalore at the IPL, have been on speed dial in recent weeks as Pietersen builds up his dossier on the opposition.
"I have had a lot of communication with [Jacques] Kallis and [Mark] Boucher. A lot of it was very, very useful," Pietersen said. "They told me about the new bowlers we haven't seen much of, like [Peter] Siddle, and how to dismiss quite a few of their top batsmen. I speak to Kallis and Boucher almost daily about stuff."
It will be a very different Australia side that faces England on July 8 than the one that completed the 5-0 Ashes whitewash in Sydney in early 2007. Gone are Justin Langer, Matthew Hayden, Glenn McGrath, Shane Warne and, the man Pietersen is most glad to see the back of, Adam Gilchrist.
"The big one that we don't see is Gilchrist coming in at seven," he said. "In Perth [during the 06-07 series] when he came in and hit one of the quickest hundreds in history, that was just demoralising. That's one of the guys we're very, very happy not to see.
"We've got to make sure we capitalise on whatever weaknesses we think they've got."
Pietersen was less forthcoming about the absence of Warne who, as expected, has had plenty to say in recent days including claiming that without Pietersen England would have no chance in the Ashes. "He'll be in the commentary box, so will certainly still be there. That's Warney, I'm not going to get anything," he said, but couldn't help having a little dig back. "We are certainly not a one-man team.
"We've got Strauss who scored so many hundreds recently; Alastair Cook has also scored hundreds in the last six months, Collingwood the same and Bopara three in his last three Test innings. I've scored a few, Flintoff has come back into the team and Matty Prior's batting has been outstanding and that's before we get to our bowlers."
It is clear that Pietersen isn't going to take a backward step over the next six weeks. Any concerns about his Achilles are being brushed aside and he said that a player can't enter a contest against Australia with a single negative thought.
"As soon as you try to play against Australia thinking you're injured that's when they'll pounce on you and crucify you. You have to go out there in a challenging fashion. That's how I like to play - and that's what I will be doing." This summer is heating up in more ways than one.
Andrew McGlashan is assistant editor of Cricinfo