Invitational XI v England XI, Tour match, SCG November 14, 2013

Pietersen finds form in lively knock


England XI 5 for 302 (Trott 84, Cook 81, Pietersen 57) trail CA Invitational XI 304 (Carters 94*, Nevill 83, Cowan 51, Finn 5-103, Broad 4-37) by two runs

About 40 minutes into his first substantial innings on tour, Kevin Pietersen decided he was ready for the Gabba. This is not known because he told anyone, but because at that point he began to treat England's final warm-up before the first Ashes Test as the sort of social match where umpires chug beers, fielders traipse on and off at their leisure and the making of big scores is less important than the settling of old ones.

Pietersen's belligerence took the form of playing a shot a ball, including reverse sweeps, airy slogs and steel-wristed drives. It coincided with the introduction of the young Victorian wrist spinner James Muirhead, a pupil of Shane Warne who drank in the experience of twirling the ball down at England's No. 4, now moving freely following a cortisone injection to alleviate chronic knee pain. The SCG Members Stand was pelted with several angry shots, as fielders scurried to cover both sweet hits and sour misses.

Muirhead eventually had his man, coaxing a slog that was well held by the substitute Daniel Hughes at long-off, and also snared Ian Bell, snicking an expansive drive. But Pietersen had shown that, as England wrestle injuries, a preparation interrupted by weather and a vexing choice for the third seam-bowling spot, they can be reassured their most destructive batsman's sense of brio is perfectly intact.

"Before the game I said to the boys I really wanted to bowl to him, he plays spin really well and I knew he'd come hard at me," Muirhead said. "I know I got hit for a few sixes but I was just enjoying the moment, and to get him out was really satisfying. It was pretty daunting bowling to him but as a legspin bowler you've got to accept getting hit for sixes, stick at it, be confident and sometimes you get the rewards like today."

This lively interlude arrived towards the end of a day that had otherwise gone smoothly enough for the visitors, as Stuart Broad, Steven Finn and Boyd Rankin combined smartly to wrap up the Invitational XI for 304, a happily cheap tally for Alastair Cook after they resumed at 5 for 271. Broad found a fine away-bender first ball of the morning to deceive Ryan Carters and, after Rankin claimed his first wicket of the innings, Finn scooped up his fifth.

Andy Flower, the team director, is now left to ponder a choice between the Rankin's bounce and economy, Finn's more expensive wickets and Chris Tremlett's Australian experience, now three years distant. Finn also has past memories of facing Australia but they have grown less happy with each successive match, concluding on the disdainful treatment meted out to him by Brad Haddin on the fevered final morning of the Trent Bridge Test.

One decision has already been made by Flower, calling in Michael Carberry to open with the captain Alastair Cook while moving Joe Root down the order. Their 318-run union in Hobart made a briefer stand seem likely in Sydney, and so it was that Carberry snicked a decent-enough ball from Josh Lalor through to Peter Nevill having made only 4.

Cook then settled down in the company of Jonathan Trott, and for 143 runs they were almost entirely untroubled. The scoring rate was brisk, the strokeplay assured and the strike rotation busy, and everyone at the ground was surprised when Trott reached out to edge Lalor behind and had to walk off. He did so as slowly as Shane Watson post hamstring injury, demonstrating a disappointment with self that suggested his mind has moved into its steeliest Test match mode.

A few overs later Cook was to be similarly disappointed about not going on well beyond three figures, hanging his bat out at Nic Bills and also offering a catch to Nevill behind the stumps. Nonethless, the wickets allowed Pietersen and Bell to have time in the middle, something they enjoyed before each falling to overly extravagant strokes. Muirhead was delighted to have dismissed Bell and Pietersen, having learned about both from Warne, his sometime mentor.

"It was a great privilege to get them out," Muirhead said. "I'd grown up watching these blokes play cricket, especially in the Ashes, and playing on the SCG for the first time it's known to suit spin bowling. It was good to get Bell out because I know Warney always got him out for fun, it was a pretty exciting moment.

"Warney's advice is nothing about skill, but more mentally, coming up against someone like Pietersen you've got to be mentally strong, back yourself all the time. You know you can bowl good balls so it was more about staying focused and being confident in yourself."

Once the excitement subsided, Root and Bairstow played out the day, showing a far greater conservatism than the senior men who had preceded them. This was wise, for they are beginning a middle order axis that may be just as crucial to England's chances in the Ashes as Pietersen's well-developed sense of daring.

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here

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  • R_U_4_REAL_NICK on November 15, 2013, 9:43 GMT

    @Optic: I'm not one of the ones that's been posting Tremlett is down on pace - I just thought 81-83 mph (as claimed by liamhsiemllac) sounded a bit low, and usually what smart bowlers bowl at in U.K. conditions to make use of swing and seam. I get the impression he's been holding back in the warm-ups, but the danger of that is (in my opinion) he's slipped behind Rankin and (especially) Finn-knee now in the pecking order for that last bowling slot.

    Finn-knee would the get the nod from me if I was selector, but who knows what the real selectors will do and they might have seen something more promising in one of the others that I've missed (or ignored). Depending on what happens with batsmen (Prior & KP fitness for example) - we might even see Stokes get a game or two to bolster the lower-order batting!

  • R_U_4_REAL_NICK on November 15, 2013, 9:29 GMT

    @Front-Foot-Sponge (post on November 14, 2013, 21:23 GMT): I ain't going to correct you because to be honest I don't know and don't care about pace. England have already got Broad, who showed in the last few games of the last Ashes series what he can do on flat tracks with no movement through the air; Australia have got MJ as you say, and don't forget Lyon as well... Oh wait, he's the spinner. It's accuracy, consistency and bowling plans to each opposing player that will win more games, not simply which team bowls faster.

  • poms_have_short_memories on November 15, 2013, 9:27 GMT

    @FFL a near full strength English XI in front of a shield 2nd XI on points, you must be salivating.

  • Camberwellcarrot1979 on November 15, 2013, 8:01 GMT

    @ Lyndon McPaul thanks for the warning about the great quality of the Aussie Test line up! Since England were 15 minutes away from 4-0 and Aus haven't won a Test in 9 attempts, I am sure England are aware of the quality of the formidable Aussie Test line up. Thanks though. There is no escape from a Mitchell Johnson bumper? Why uis everyone talking up Johnson? Cook and Carberry might get a workout I agree but then could Brad Haddin! If you guys had an erratic MJ bowling and Wade keeping, I think extras would get a ton at least!

  • dunger.bob on November 15, 2013, 8:01 GMT

    I agree that England has probably been able to squeeze enough practice out of this weather affected run in to the first Test. As they rightly say, every ones had a decent hit and/or bowl.

    It's much the same with the Aussies. All the batsmen have made some runs, though Bailey and Clarke might both have liked a few more, and the bowlers have been working away steadily.

    It's looks to me as though we're all set to go.

  • Jacknife01 on November 15, 2013, 6:39 GMT

    I don't know how many other England and Aussie fans have had to endure watching this wam up game on CA site but to say it was dire was an under statement. One camera from each end that looked like it was filmed on a 80's camcorder. England will be pleased though, warm ups are a bit of a hiding to nothing anyway and all you can do is get time in the middle and overs under you're belt. All the England boys dd that this game except Carberry and even though the bowling wasn't world class it was disciplined from Tremaine Lalor and Bills. Trott was excellent, along with Cook but KP was something else. He obviously took his time at the start to play himself in and then we saw every shot in the book, which is always good to see. Not being unfair to the Aussies but most of the dismissals were down to either over attacking KP & Bell, or losing concentration Cook and Trott, which can be expected in a warm up. Broad & Anderson look in great rhythm and Finn has had a few good spells, with a 5fer

  • Jacknife01 on November 15, 2013, 6:18 GMT

    @Front-Foot-Sponge It will be interesting to see how fast Johnson bowls in the test matches, last time I watch hi bowl in a test he was around 87mph. We've seen with Finn that he bowls well over 90mph in one day games but in tests he's a touch slower 87-89mph. Obviously bowling 10 overs in 3 spells is so different to bowling 20 -25 overs in a day. If Rankin plays he's another 90mph bowler and as you say Broad's picked his pace back up after his heeling injury problems. Harris , Siddle and Anderson generally operated in the mid 80's and were the better bowlers. Maybe that tells us something about bowling out and out fast.

  • Jacknife01 on November 15, 2013, 6:06 GMT

    @indiasucksgobd I'd like to know what most of the other teams in the world have got if England have a weak batting line up. They have 6 of their top 7 all average over 40 including the keeper, 4 of which average over 47 Cook, Trott, Bell and KP with 77 test match ton between them. Just Carberry who obviously has only played one test is a bit of a unknown. I'd love to know how that's a weak batting line up, even relatively speaking. You don't win as many test and series over the years having a weak batting line up , or bowling for that matter.

  • Jacknife01 on November 15, 2013, 5:48 GMT

    @ R_U_4_REAL_NICK This Tremlett has lost pace is a myth. Go and watch some of the DVD's if you've got them of the 2010/11 Ashes and he bowled a consistent 133/35kph, which is low 80's. The other day when I was watching him in the 2nd warm up game, he bowled around 130/132kph and that was in a warm up game. Tremlett's never used pace to get wickets , he's used his accuracy and bounce and from what I saw from his overs the other day where he bowled with Anderson, he's still got it. He bowled just that 8 overs but went at 2.8 rpo and could have had a number of wickets if the play and misses would have been closer. I do agree that Finn just picks up wicket and always has done, he can be loose at times but when he gets into a groove he can be devastating.

  • dummy4fb on November 15, 2013, 2:45 GMT

    I was at the SCG watching the game, and I must say once the England batsmen got through a scratchy first few overs, they all looked in excellent touch. And that's not because of the bowling line up either - Lalor was superb and I expect to hear much more from him in coming years. I think the biggest difference between the two teams currently is the difference in Ashes winners in each squad. England have roughly 13 Ashes winning cricketers in their squad and Australia have 1... That experience of winning games could be crucial in the coming months.

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