The Ashes: Pietersen prepares for Johnson threat

Kevin Pietersen's attempts to befriend Mitchell Johnson have failed - but he knows enough about the Australian's cricketing talents to be wary of him for the remainder of the Ashes.

Pietersen was one of three batsmen who made just nine first-innings runs between them before Johnson's late inswing proved too much in England's 267-run defeat in Perth.

England's mercurial number four has learned much from that regrettable experience, and promises the tourists will be ready for whatever Johnson can deliver in the Boxing Day Test.

With the Ashes score 1-1 with two to play, and approaching 100,000 people expected to fill the MCG on each of the first three days, the stakes could hardly be higher.

Pietersen cannot wait. But first, he has had to contend with questions about his and Johnson's short-lived duel at the WACA - specifically, what was said between the runs and wickets.

A puzzled Johnson subsequently reported that his adversary's off-the-wall banter on the pitch included a bizarre request for his phone number.

Pressed for an explanation of how he and Australia's danger man are getting on, Pietersen appeared non-plussed. "I don't have a relationship with Johnson," he said.

There was a more forthcoming response to England's evident inability to cope with the left-armer in the third Test, and their determination to do much better next time.

"He took us by surprise, for sure," Pietersen admitted.

"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 none 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, like coach Andy Flower and opening batsman Alastair Cook before him, has made it abundantly clear England will be entirely unconcerned if - as expected - another quick pitch is prepared for the MCG.

Australia captain Ricky Ponting noted England's perceived vulnerability on bouncy surfaces both before and after their defeat on a typically lively WACA surface.

Pietersen anticipates the drop-in strip in Melbourne will be pacy too, but will be losing no sleep at that prospect.

"Of course they are going to do it," he said. "They've just had success in Perth on a bouncy wicket, but we've had success around the world on bouncy wickets.

"We lost that Test within half an hour, five for 20 - that's where we lost it.

"Full, swinging balls knocked over our top order.

"We didn't lose it to a bouncy wicket; we lost it to balls that swung that we didn't prepare ourselves properly for.

"We will be prepared fully for everything come Sunday morning, so I don't think the wicket will play any different part."

Pietersen, a veteran of three Ashes campaigns already, sees the forthcoming match as an even grander stage than the one which made his name five years ago when he made an urn-clinching hundred.

"Leading 2-1 in '05 going into an Oval Test was pretty big, but this is

huge," he continued.

"Having won a Test, lost a Test, two to play, one to win to take the Ashes home is an incredible opportunity for the team.

"It could be potentially around 400,000 people watching the five days. That is so exciting.

"I've played a little bit, and I get goosebumps thinking about it.

"Everyone in the team, including the management and the Australians, are really looking forward to it."

It seems likely there will be a reprise of the Johnson-Pietersen talk show, among others.

But Pietersen insists, contrary to reports, there was nothing untoward or even especially notable in the back-chat at the WACA.

"I've played against Australia I don't know how many Test matches - and believe me, the first time I played and the second time I came out here, the likes of Warne, McGrath etc, there were some pretty big verbal contests," he said.

"I haven't seen or heard anything different (in Perth) from what's happened in the first two Tests, let alone last year in England. There are not really any big chirpers or sledgers.

"It's England v Australia, an Ashes series. Blokes get the red mist occasionally; you're allowed to do that - things happen.

"You're playing for that little urn. It's historic; it's huge.

"But there's nothing that's been overboard, and if things go overboard match referees deal with stuff like that. There's not been anything close to it."

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