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