The Ashes: Kevin Pietersen poised to show his class in MCG cauldron
There is a feverish excitement around this city. It is that time of year but right now it is that time of year and then some.
Christmas, the Boxing Day Test match, 1-1 in the Ashes series, the teams at each other's throats, all to play for at the MCG, a world record crowd for cricket expected to roll up on the first morning. The sensation is unmistakable and it is everywhere.
Outside a shopping mall on Collins Street yesterday a banner read: “Congratulations to Australia in the Ashes.” If nothing else, this reflected the profound relief that Australia had come storming back in the Third Test match in Perth and that there are still Ashes to play for.
“Come inside and see Justin Langer,” it said underneath. Langer is Australia's former opening batsman, current batting coach and has a book out which he is plugging by waspishly shedding doubt on the tourists.
If it is possible, the anticipation here, the oldest and most venerable of Australia's cricketing cities, is greater than that in the few days leading up to the First Test in Brisbane a month ago. Come to think, it knocks it into a cocked hat.
Kevin Pietersen, the England batsman, said yesterday: “I'm 30-years-old, and I've played however many Test matches and I promise you right now I cannot wait for Boxing Day. If you're a cricket lover and a cricket player and you get the opportunity to walk out and sing the national anthems at quarter past 10 on Sunday morning and there are 100,000 people watching you — goosebumps.”
Melbourne Cricket Ground, known simply as the G because that seems to capture its gigantic status, will be a seething cauldron. Pietersen, who followed his career best 227 in Adelaide with a three ball duck and three in Perth has clearly been caught up in the emotion and drama of the event. Apart from the fluctuating fortunes reflected by the results the public imagination has also been captured by the ruggedly confrontational approaches of both sides.
England are making light of this, tip-toeing round the issue, but the reason that Jimmy Anderson has been dubbed as sledge crazed in some sections of the Aussie press are not all connected with tabloid hyperbole. It is also patently the case that Australia, while never wilting wallflowers on the field, felt they were being out-sledged and outwitted and therefore made a concerted effort to hit back in Perth. But Pietersen stood rigidly by the party line.
“The English take is that we didn't hear anything or see anything differently to what normally happens in a Test match,” he said. “Having played against Warne and McGrath, the sledging here is non-existent. You haven't seen any huge battles on the field or any proper abuse. No one's said anything to me after they bowled a ball to me.”
He added: “I don't feel intimidated by the Australians. I think when you're under extreme amounts of pressure, you talk a lot more. And the good thing about our team is, we're on a plateau. We do what we do. We had a hiccup last week. Yes, we were constructive in the criticism that we chucked around the team meeting about preparation and whatever.
“But we haven't come out and made any bold, huge statements about this and about that. We understand that they are very vulnerable — there are a lot of areas in their team that are very vulnerable. And we just need to do what we do and wipe the slate clean and forget Perth. Think about Adelaide — think about how well we did there.”