Australia v England, 3rd Test, Perth, 2nd day December 17, 2010

Australians step up sledging war

Australia have made a concerted effort to turn up the volume on England and the extra sledging is increasing the tension between the sides. Mitchell Johnson called Kevin Pietersen a "smart arse" for asking for his phone number on the field and was also involved in arguments with James Anderson.

Matt Prior exchanged words with Peter Siddle after being bounced out and appeared to invite the bowler out the back for another confrontation. "Siddle was going pretty hard, coming around the wicket and bowling short balls into his ribs," Johnson said. "I don't think [Prior] liked it too much."

Johnson believes Australia perform better when they are loud and he has asked Brad Haddin and Siddle for tips about getting in England's faces. Anderson and Johnson have swapped barbs over two Tests and today it was Johnson's turn to deliver a send-off when Anderson was his sixth victim as England slipped to 187 all out.

Pietersen also cheekily suggested he and Johnson could be friends after the series. "I didn't give him my phone number, that's for sure," Johnson said. "I don't think he was being friendly, I think he was being a bit of a smart arse."

Johnson had already got Pietersen's number when he had him lbw for 0 on the way to figures of 6 for 38. "Pietersen, whether he's joking around or being cheeky, he does get under some blokes' skins more than others," he said. "I'm sure I get under a lot of their blokes' skin. It goes both ways."

He judged Graeme Swann as the opposition's best sledger and said he enjoyed playing England because "they give it back as much as we give it to them". However, England's players didn't think they were such a big part of the verbals.

"I didn't realise it was all kicking off like that," Ian Bell said. "We thought there was a bit of banter going on, but I didn't realise Johnson was quite in our faces as probably what he thinks he was."

Since the fractious India series of 2007-08, Australia's on-field behaviour has been under extra scrutiny and Johnson said there were times when they had to tone down. "We definitely backed off for a little bit there, we've been a bit up and down with it," Johnson said.

Despite the bouts of trouble, the talk helps stir the Australians and it has been a feature of the team's make-up for the past 40 years. "If you look at the times we have performed well, they've been very fiery games," Johnson said. "I don't mind getting in a little bit of a confrontation, as long as we don't overstep the mark. We're playing for the Ashes."

Johnson is a quiet, sensitive man off the field and he has to act out a different role when he mouths off. He was in trouble earlier in the year for butting heads with New Zealand's Scott Styris and at times has to battle to stay in control.

"I just need to keep my emotions in check and I think I did that today," he said. "I was fired up enough, I was more worried about where I wanted to put the ball. I enjoyed celebrating the wickets I got today."

Peter English is the Australasia editor of Cricinfo

Comments