Pietersen breaks the ice on plans for Ashes heat

Batsman upbeat about England's prospects in Australia despite poor show at Champions Trophy

Kevin Pietersen was extolling the virtues of ice baths. He is convinced their repeated use by England's cricketers is proof positive of their team spirit. It would be easy to pour cold water on this - which would be the last thing you want in an ice bath - but Pietersen was not for dissuading.

"The vibes we're getting here are amazing - the boys are really together," he said. "They're doing ice baths and jumping in three at a time, in, in, in. Ice baths are horrible, they're absolutely freezing but there's no moaning. I never used to go in but now we're all in there. That's the way it's got to be because of this winter, all in clubbing together."

Come January, with the Ashes retained, it would perhaps be bizarre to claim it was the ice baths that did it. No matter. For the moment England, hammered twice in the Champions Trophy, are desperate to portray a united front. If it takes a sub-zero wallow, so be it.

In the coming weeks they may need to circle the wagons while they are in there. The abject performances against India and Australia in the past week, merely confirming the anaemic nature of England's one-day team, have elicited justified scorn. For the first time that has been accompanied by a call for Duncan Fletcher, the team's coach, to be sacked.

The initial demand has come from Geoff Boycott, the former batsman who has not got where he is today by keeping contentious opinions to himself, but, thus encouraged, others will now pick up the ball and run with it. If it is unhelpful days away from the Ashes and ignores the fact that England are still second in the Test rankings table, it was also probably inevitable after their wretchedness in the Champions Trophy.

"I think experience is needed, a lot more games under the belt," said Pietersen, attempting to rationalise the failures. "The more you play together, the more you can assess situations, click into gear and get that ruthless streak about you. When we played Pakistan, Inzamam-ul-Haq had played more games than all our side put together. Look at the Australians, Ricky Ponting, Adam Gilchrist, Damien Martyn, all these blokes have played 200 games. We've got two who've just got to 100."

This overlooks the fact that England's downfall against Australia on Saturday was caused largely by Mitchell Johnson (eight games) and Shane Watson (49). But it is a point. A more pertinent one might be that England do not score runs in one-day cricket when Pietersen does not. In almost a third of his innings for England, Pietersen has been the top scorer. He has now gone eight innings, his longest stretch, without a half-century, and 23 without adding to his three hundreds. It would not be in his character to admit that he is out of form. Nor did he.

"I am hitting the ball as well as I have ever done in the nets, I had a really good net the other day," he said. "I felt really good going into the Australia game. You can't score runs all day, every day. But I don't ever look at the negatives and think too much about it. You can get out for one, I could get out for one again next week but you're only one innings away from a big hundred or a match-winning performance."

That little speech was typical of the man. From anybody else but KP you might have thought it was nuts but he has been idiosyncratically integral to England's cause since he broke into the team at the end of 2004. An average of 52.22 in one-day cricket is accompanied by one of 48.39 (with five hundreds) from his 18 Test matches.

Pietersen has been a constant revelation. His experiences at Nottinghamshire when he first came to England from South Africa, where he was born and educated, made it possible to conclude that he would be an insidious influence on the team. Far from it. He had made it clear at Notts that he was the best player, scored most of the runs and seemed to have forgotten the team ethos.

"It's got to be the team at the end of the day," he said. "Maybe I try a bit too hard, but it's not me thinking I have to do this, I have to do that, not at all."

Pietersen is still sure of himself but his personality has mellowed. This has come partly with age, partly, doubtless, because he is where he wants to be having had to spend four years qualifying, partly because he is in a settled relationship with Jessica Taylor, of the pop combo Liberty X.

His life changed after his rip-roaring 158 at the Oval which clinched the 2005 Ashes. For a few weeks he was at all the best parties. He likes the trappings but he is probably a quiet lad at heart. He refers to Ms Taylor as his "missus": "It helps me physically and mentally. She provides solidarity in terms of the support you need to be a successful international sportsman."

Taylor will be with him for much of the journey round Australia. But it would be incorrect to suppose she came along just in time. Pietersen has always been aware of the need to work. He likes the parties and the attention but he has never forgotten what brought the invitations.

"Yes, the Ashes changed my life," he said earlier this year. "But one thing I haven't done is let it affect the way I train, affect everything I do to make myself successful." A few days later he went in at Lord's and scored 158 against Sri Lanka culminating in a reverse sweep for six off Muttiah Muralitharan. It was the shot of the year, of any year.

The way he bats, however, as we might be finding out now he has been around the international scene a while, means he might not be successful consistently. But he will win one, maybe two Test matches in a series with something extraordinary.

"Losing here has no bearing on the Ashes," he said yesterday. Conditions are completely different, it's a different format, the hype, the crowd at Brisbane will be much bigger... Everything now, is totally focused on the Ashes." Doubtless, he will ponder that with the lads in the ice bath.

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