Australian plan doomed to fail insists unfazed star Pietersen

THE Australians may think they have a cunning plan to stop Kevin Pietersen, but England's most potent batting weapon last night insisted he was ready for anything Ricky Ponting's men could throw at him.

By picking the unheralded left-arm spinner Xavier Doherty in their 13-man squad for this week's opening Ashes Test in Brisbane, the hosts all-but admitted they had devised a way to nulify the threat posed by the big-hitting South Arican-born batsman.

"The panel believes the left-arm orthodox variety Xavier Doherty provides against a predominantly right-handed English middle-order is the better option in this game," said Australia's chairman of selectors Andrew Hilditch in explaining the decision to pick Doherty ahead of the more experienced Nathan Hauritz.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Launch our Ashes web-mag

Click here to listen to our CricketTalk Ashes special podcast >>

Doherty, who will turn 28 ahead of the start of the first Test, has only taken three five-wicket hauls in first-class cricket and has a bowling average of 48. He is clearly no Shane Warne, but the very fact that Pietersen has seemingly struggled against bowlers of his ilk before, means an unexpected Ashes call-up.

Pietersen, the Australians believe, has a technical flaw in dealing with left-arm spinners and it is clearly something Ponting is looking to exploit, even if the player himself is confident that he has already 'sorted' such issues.

"I don't have technical glitches, I've sorted them," Pietersen said. "I'm always looking to score against every bowler, but any bowler can get any batter out it's just a fact.

"I'm sure right-arm seamers have got me out most of my career. It's something people have talked about but it's not something that bothers me. Everyone can talk about what they want, we're going to concentrate on what we do.

"I have seen Xavier Doherty bowl a couple of overs against Sri Lanka in the one-dayers. He looks a good bowler but it will be interesting to see if they play a spinner or the four quicks. But that's for everyone else to talk about. We're concentrating on what we do, how we'll do it and all the processes that this team has been doing well over last few months. That's our sole focus not the individuals."

Such thoughts were echoed by Pietersen's friend and former Yorkshire captain Darren Gough, who denied suggestions that KP would struggle against Doherty's style of bowling.

Gough believes Australia have picked Doherty as front-line spinner solely to try and expose Pietersen but insists the batsman is "in the right frame mentally" to help England to Ashes glory.

"They've gone for him purely because of the Kevin Pietersen factor," he said. "They believe he has got a weakness against left arm spin but I've looked at his record and Kevin still averages 40 against left arm spin when they've got him out in Tests.

"If he averages 40 in the series, England will do well.

"I have spoken to Kevin and he is in the right frame of mind for the Ashes. He would have liked a few more runs but as soon as the Test starts, it's a different ball game.

"I've just a feeling that he is going to get a hundred in the first Test."

Pietersen meanwhile has praised England's preparation for the series but has admitted after three weeks of build up only now will the camp fully turn their attention to the matter in hand – defending the Ashes.

"There's excitement in the ranks, we've had the first phase of the tour, three first class games where the target was to play hard cricket to win the games," said Pietersen.

"We won two and if it wasn't for rain we could have won in Adelaide. Now we want to ramp it up for Brisbane where the sole focus is on winning the Ashes.

"We haven't really given Australia too much thought at the moment because we've had some good opponents to play. It would have been pretty silly to start thinking way too far ahead and not thinking about the now.

"Now it's a chance for us to get into Australia mode and concentrate on their players and have a look at their players, suss their players out, concentrate on our key strengths and join up with bowlers in Brisbane to get that togetherness together again."

England were whitewashed 5-0 the last time they played an Ashes series in Australia, but Pietersen senses a different mood among the players.

"The tour feels very different to last time," he stated. "Last time, before we got to Brisbane, it wasn't too much of a tour, it was very friendly and very nice but as soon as the first Test came about everything started going off in terms of Ashes fever."

While all of the weekend attention was on one Australian spinner, his opposite number in the England camp was patiently waiting for Ashes battle to commence.

Graeme Swann is currently the World's No1 spinner and admits he was surprised to see Hauritz dropped for the relatively untried Doherty.

And he believes any ploy to attack Pietersen's apparent weakness is misguided.

"It's not a concern for us, because we've seen Kev destroy left-arm spinners," he said. "Any batsman can get out to any bowler any time.

"I know it doesn't worry Kevin – and it doesn't worry the rest of us.

"I feel a little bit sorry for Hauritz, because he's a good man. We had a good chat after the last Ashes at The Oval, and I rate him as a bowler."

Swann and England's three other first-choice bowlers were joined in Brisbane over the weekend by the remainder of the squad – fresh from beating Australia A in Hobart – having skipped the tourists' final warm-up match in favour of early acclimatisation.

He has been pinching himself in the sub-tropical climes, struggling to contain a childlike anticipation of England's defence of the Ashes and their attempt to win in Australia for the first time in almost a quarter of a century.

"When we first got over here I daren't think of the first Test match – because I was like a kid on December 1, with an Advent calendar," said the 31-year-old. "I couldn't wait for the 25th to come along."

There is a near perfect symmetry in the date, of course – because that opening match he craves will begin on November 25.

"It's really building now, less than a week to go," he continued. "I go back to my room at night and I smile like a lunatic and bounce off the walls.

"It's going to be amazing come Thursday – I just can't wait."

Swann senses it is not just he who can barely keep a lid on the excitement.

"It's inevitable," he said. "The intensity is going to be hyped up, the cameras in your face, the people in the street.

"Any player would be lying if he said you can't feel it."

England's tour so far has been hugely encouraging with two wins and by far the best of a rain-affected draw in the bag from their three-match warm-up schedule.

"We've played some excellent cricket over the last three or four weeks," added Swann. "The acclimatisation couldn't have gone better really.

"I think it just showed the strength and the depth of our squad that we could give Australia A such a good beating the other day."

Swann and Pietersen are, it seems, ready for this Ashes battle to get underway. Happy for all the talking to stop and the action to finally start.