Gillette ODI Series 2018

The day McGrath floored Pietersen

How a short but acrimonious Ashes rivalry ended with a broken rib ... but the sledging continued

Adam Burnett

13 January 2018, 03:38 PM AEST

Adam Burnett previously wrote for and edited at Inside Cricket magazine and The Sydney Morning Herald in Australia and The Telegraph and the Guardian in the UK.
Outgoing McGrath has last laugh over KP

It says a lot for the intensity of the Ashes rivalry that Glenn McGrath and Kevin Pietersen, whose Test careers only overlapped by some 16 months, were able to build up such an infamous level of animosity towards one another in such a short space of time.

It also provides a telling insight into their respective characters. McGrath, in the final years of his time at the top, and every bit the ageing fast bowler; grumpy, hostile and temperamental, though still possessing sufficient guile and years of wisdom with which to remain a threat. And Pietersen, Test cricket's new wunderkind, precociously talented and the brash face of an emerging generation of Englishmen who refused to be cowed by Australia's legendary crop.

It was a combustible match-up from the outset.

The two had met in the ODIs preceding the 2005 Ashes, though it wasn't until the opening match of that quite remarkable series that the initial salvos were truly fired.

The first Test at Lord's also happened to be Pietersen's Test debut, and while the South Africa-born batsman was nominally playing on his turf, it was the Australian who could reasonably have felt at home at the Home of Cricket; in two Tests at the venue, he'd collected 17 wickets, relishing the slope and the breeze and the sense of occasion.

So it was only with cursory surprise that McGrath ripped through England late on day one of that first Test, encountering virtually zero resistance during a spell that garnered him five wickets for the measly sum of two runs.

Pietersen fought fire with fire against McGrath on Test debut // Getty
Pietersen fought fire with fire against McGrath on Test debut // Getty

Which meant he had accumulated 22 wickets in fewer than three completed matches at Lord's, at less than 10 runs apiece.

Pietersen, viewed at that point as little more than a one-day fly-by-night with a skunk haircut, appeared an unlikely roadblock.

But as England fell to 8-101 early on day two, the 25-year-old – who had patiently compiled 36 from 81 deliveries – made his move, showing scant regard for a man 10 years his senior, and who had the previous evening become just the second fast bowler to collect 500 Test wickets.

From the first ball of McGrath's 16th over, he cross-bat slapped a length ball down the ground for four. Next up, he went one better, driving over long off and into the second tier for six, a shot commentator Mike Atherton labelled "technically perfect". He followed it up with a spanking cover drive for four to bring up his half-century.

"He's got all the talent in the world, Kevin Pietersen," observed Atherton.

The debutant finished with 57 in a total of 155, and backed it up with 64 in 180 second time around as England suffered a heavy defeat. For the remainder of the series, and the five that followed, he would be the prize wicket for the tourists.

By the 2006-07 Ashes summer in Australia, Pietersen was in his pomp. Physically imposing in much the same manner as Matthew Hayden, he had taken to mimicking one of the Queenslander's more aggressive tendencies.

McGrath and Pietersen had a running battle during the 2006-07 series // Getty
McGrath and Pietersen had a running battle during the 2006-07 series // Getty

"'KP' was giving me a hard time," McGrath recalls for "He was at the peak of his career and I was just on my way down – I was long in the tooth then.

"During the end of the Test series, he was walking (down the wicket) at me."

It was an act of bravado that typified Pietersen, and one designed to induce a reaction from the 36-year-old fast bowler, who announced partway through the series that the final Test in Sydney would be his last.

"In the last Test match he kept walking at me, so I bowled a short one and he went to pull it," McGrath remembers. "It went straight up and he got caught at mid-wicket.

"He didn't charge me in the second innings but I got him caught behind, so to get him twice in my last Test match, I was pretty happy with that."

It tallied five times that McGrath had removed Pietersen in their eight Tests match battles, though true to form, neither was interested in letting sleeping dogs lie when they could instead go toe-to-toe once more in the one-day contests that followed.

Pietersen maintained his audacious approach to McGrath in the series opener at the MCG, advancing at the bowler relentlessly as he passed fifty.

"There was no respect there at all," McGrath says. "He was just charging every ball."

McGrath, playing his final Test, celebrates Pietersen's wicket at the SCG // Getty
McGrath, playing his final Test, celebrates Pietersen's wicket at the SCG // Getty

With Pietersen having made his way to 82, the pair convened near the standing umpire, and engaged in what appeared to be a quite heated exchange.

"He was down the non-striker's end, and we were having a bit of friendly banter, a bit of chat," McGrath says. "I told him to be careful. I said, 'Mate, you're starting to get a little bit too predictable, so just be careful'."

Pietersen remembers the chatter as nothing out of the ordinary, especially considering the opponent in question.

"'Pidge' (McGrath) used to say something after every single ball," he told with a smile. "Always, he just kept mumbling every single ball."

When Pietersen next came on strike however, McGrath was very much alert to the tactic, and the Englishman's predictability proved costly.

"He charged me again, so I dropped it shorter – he was going a bit too early," the Australian says. "It probably wasn't the quickest ball in the world, and it probably didn't bounce as much as he thought ... because he's charging forward (there was) that 'thud' on his ribs.

"To see him in pain and go down, I've got a bit of a smile on my face."

A photo taken of the moment capture's McGrath's barely-concealed glee at the outcome – a broken rib, and Pietersen's final act of the summer.

McGrath looks on as Pietersen doubles over in pain // Getty
McGrath looks on as Pietersen doubles over in pain // Getty

The Englishman, who had spent the previous seven weeks being whitewashed in the Test series and receiving an endless stream of abuse from partisan Australian crowds, insists he too could find some sense of satisfaction with the upshot.

"It was actually one of those moments where, the tour was that bad, (I was thinking) 'Oh yes, (the rib is) broken. QF1 (Qantas flight) to London, I've had enough of being beaten every single day'," he said.

The pleasantries should have ended there ... but then, between Pietersen and McGrath, they were never going to. As the hosts left the field following England's innings, both players were intent on delivering a parting shot, though it's fair to say the Australian took the points.

Pietersen's miserable tour ended in painful fashion // Getty
Pietersen's miserable tour ended in painful fashion // Getty

"He was standing on the balcony, having a go at me," McGrath remembers of Pietersen. "He was saying he couldn't believe that ball had broken his rib; how could a ball travelling that slow break his rib?

"The only comeback I had was that I was happy to sign his x-rays for him."

2017-18 International Fixtures

Magellan Ashes Series

Australia Test squad: Steve Smith (c), David Warner (vc), Ashton Agar, Cameron Bancroft, Usman Khawaja, Peter Handscomb, Shaun Marsh, Mitchell Marsh, Tim Paine (wk), Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins, Nathan Lyon, Josh Hazlewood, Jackson Bird.

England Test squad: Joe Root (c), James Anderson (vc), Moeen Ali, Jonny Bairstow, Jake Ball, Gary Ballance, Stuart Broad, Alastair Cook, Mason Crane, Tom Curran, Ben Foakes, Dawid Malan, Craig Overton, Ben Stokes, Mark Stoneman, James Vince, Chris Woakes.

First Test Australia won by 10 wickets. Scorecard

Second Test Australia won by 120 runs (Day-Night). Scorecard

Third Test Australia won by an innings and 41 runs. Scorecard

Fourth Test Match drawn. Tickets

Fifth Test SCG, January 4-8 (Pink Test). Scorecard

Gillette ODI Series v England

First ODI MCG, January 14. Tickets

Second ODI Gabba, January 19. Tickets

Third ODI SCG, January 21. Tickets

Fourth ODI Adelaide Oval, January 26. Tickets

Fifth ODI Perth Stadium, January 28. Tickets

Prime Minister's XI

PM's XI v England Manuka Oval, February 2. Tickets

Gillette T20 trans-Tasman Tri-Series

First T20I Australia v NZ, SCG, February 3. Tickets

Second T20I – Australia v England, Blundstone Arena, February 7. Tickets

Third T20I – Australia v England, MCG, February 10. Tickets

Fourth T20I – NZ v England, Wellington, February 14

Fifth T20I – NZ v Australia, Eden Park, February 16

Sixth T20I – NZ v England, Seddon Park, February 18

Final – TBC, Eden Park, February 21