Kevin Pietersen yesterday sought to douse the flames of the sledging row threatening to engulf the Ashes series.
"Things that happen on the field should stay on the field," Pietersen said, as he looked forward with excitement to the fourth Test, which starts here on Boxing Day. He went on to explain his spat with Mitchell Johnson, the Australian fast bowler, who continues to dominate English thoughts, partly because of his instrumental part in his side's 267-run win in the third Test at the Waca, partly because he is their sledger-in-chief. Pietersen, always at the forefront of so much, was involved in a peculiar story that he had asked Johnson on the field at Perth for his mobile phone number. In relating the story, Johnson, an inveterate chatter, had called Pietersen a smart-arse.
"You guys love feeding him lines and he chats," Pietersen said. "I'm not talking. I was just seeing if I could be his friend. We play this game to make friends." There he was toeing the England line, tongue in his cheek, but toeing the line. "I don't have a relationship with Johnson," he added.
But Pietersen admitted Johnson's bowling had shocked England. "His bowling took us by surprise, for sure," Pietersen said. "He bowled well, really, really well, and had a good game of cricket – and we're going to have to prepare ourselves for that swinging ball. We knew he could swing it, but we didn't realise he would swing it that much."
Johnson's nine wickets at the Waca were in stark contrast to his 0 for 170 – and 19-ball duck, for good measure – in the drawn first Test in Brisbane, after which he was dropped for the second in Adelaide. "He did some really good work in the week off he had," added Pietersen. "But we will be a lot better prepared for it here in Melbourne, so we will play him a lot better."
Pietersen also said that the thought of playing at a full MCG, with a capacity of 100,000, was thrilling. "I cannot wait for Boxing Day," he said.
The injured Australia opener Simon Katich has said he is set to make a surprise return in time for the fifth Test, increasing the pressure on Phillip Hughes to find form at the MCG. Katich hurt his Achilles during the second Test.