The intensity and the level of the rivalry that exists in Ashes Tests can be judged from the animosity that two Ashes greats, Glenn McGrath and Kevin Pietersen shared and the battles that these two were able to build-up, inspite of their careers overlapping with each other only by some 16 months.
The infamous level of animosity that McGrath and Pietersen shared with each other also tells you a lot about their respective characters and the kind of people they were, when on field representing their countries. 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 wonderkid, precociously talented and the brash face of an emerging generation of Englishmen who refused to be cowed by Australia’s legendary crop.
Prior to that famous Ashes series in 2005, these two had faced each other in the ODIs preceding that series but they somehow managed to wait until the first Test of that remarkable series to fire the opening salvo against each other. The Lord’s Test was not only the series opener but also the debut match for the South Africa-born Pietersen. Meanwhile, the great Glenn McGrath had already collected 17 wickets in his two previous outings at the venue.
It came as a surprise to virtually no one when McGrath ran through England’s top order and already had 5 wickets in his kitty. Enter Kevin Pietersen, then viewed as little more than a one-day fly-by-night with a skunk haircut and one who appeared and 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.
In an innings where England managed a total of 155 runs, Pietersen got 57 of those runs and he was not done yet. The mercurial maverick managed yet another fifty in his team’s second essay with the bat, scoring 64 runs out of a total 180 as England suffered a heavy defeat.
For the remainder of the series, Pietersen would be the prize wicket for the tourists. But it was the 2006-07 Ashes summer in Australia where the rivalry really unfolded as Pietersen was in his pomp while McGrath was playing the last Test series of his career.
“‘KP’ was giving me a hard time,” McGrath recalls. “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.”
“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.”
Pietersen also has his very own version of the story, recalling that “‘Pidge’ (McGrath) used to say something after every single ball. Always, he just kept mumbling every single ball.”
A fantastic rivalry between two of the best that the game has ever seen, this one!