New Zealand captain Brendon McCullum insists he is relishing the prospect of going up against Kevin Pietersen in the second Twenty20 international at The Oval on Thursday, saying the "game's better" when the star batsman is involved. Pietersen hasn't played for England since leaving the tour of New Zealand in March with a knee injury that sidelined him from all cricket until last week.
But the South Africa-born shotmaker returned to action in spectacular style by making an unbeaten 177 for Surrey in their County Championship match away to Yorkshire, an innings featuring 17 fours and seven sixes. It was a heartening innings for England ahead of next month's Ashes defence against Australia and Pietersen was specifically named as being available for Thursday's fixture when England named their T20 squad last week, England could have done with some extra batting firepower at The Oval on Tuesday.
They lost the first of two T20s by five runs -- exactly the same margin of defeat as England suffered against India in a Champions Trophy final at Edgbaston on Sunday reduced by rain from 50 to 20 overs per side. McCullum, no slouch with the bat himself as he proved in top-scoring Tuesday with 68 off 48 balls, said he looked forward to facing Pietersen. "He's obviously a world-class player and if he comes back into the mix on Thursday then we'll have to do a little more studying tomorrow to try and come up with something.
"But the game's better when Kevin's back involved so it'll be great from our point of view too if he does play." Pietersen, now with Oval-based Surrey, announced himself to the world by making the first of his 22 Test hundreds, a stunning 158 that secured the Ashes for England in 2005, at the south London venue. Eoin Morgan, England's stand-in Twenty20 captain in the absence of rested paceman Stuart Broad, was understandably keen to have Pietersen back on board.
"My role is to get him in and his role is to win the game," said Morgan. "Kevin is a huge part of English cricket and has been for a long time. What he brings to the table, probably very few people in the world can (match). "He can take the game away from you at any stage and we saw last week the way he performed," Middlesex's Morgan added.
Tuesday's clash turned on a second-wicket stand of 114 between McCullum and left-handed opener Hamish Rutherford, made after New Zealand were one for one when James Franklin was caught behind off England debutant Boyd Rankin. Left-handed opener Rutherford, one six players out for nought as Essex were dismissed for just 20 by Lancashire in a County Championship match earlier this month, kept his cool during a fine 62 off just 35 balls, including six fours and four sixes.
"Hamish Rutherford was outstanding, the way he struck the ball," said McCullum. "Boyd Rankin was getting steep bounce and to see Hamish strike the ball so well settled the whole batting line-up." One consolation for England that this defeat was not as painful as the loss to India where, despite needing 20 runs to win off 16 balls with six wickets standing, they still missed out on what would have been their first major one-day international title.
"It's not as frustrating as against India," said Morgan, one of four survivors in the England team that played Tuesday from Sunday's side. "That was an opportunity missed but this was a great effort and we can take a lot of positives." One of those was the form of Morgan's fellow ex-Ireland international Rankin, now with county side Warwickshire, who took one for 24 for his adopted country. "Boyd Rankin was fantastic but it doesn't come as a surprise for me to see him bowl with great pace and bounce," said Morgan.