Perth: New England vice captain Alastair Cook believes the challenge of retaining the Ashes is the perfect stage for mercurial batsman Kevin Pietersen to bounce back to his best form.
Pietersen boasts an imposing record against Australia, averaging 50.72 in Ashes Tests, ahead of his 47.80 career record, and his average of 54.44 in Australia is even more impressive.
However, the 30-year-old has struggled with the bat over the past 12 months, averaging just 36.61 and failing to post a Test century.
The Australians have also criticised the South African-born batsman as being a selfish player who has a destabilising influence on the English team at times.
Only last week, fast bowler Doug Bollinger said the Australians did not have any specific plans to try to unsettle Pietersen verbally, believing the powerful right-hander’s own ego would be his own undoing.
However, Cook dismissed that suggestion and said he expected Pietersen to be back to his explosive best against the Australians.
“I couldn’t agree less with that statement,” he said when it was suggested Pietersen had become a distraction.
“He’s obviously had a difficult 12 months with his form but his work ethic over those 12 months has been the hardest I’ve seen him work at his game.
“Talent like that and the stats he’s got behind him show what a great player he is.
“Great players might lose their form for a little bit but they come back and a big series like this, I think it’s just about the right time to come back,” he said.
“I know he’s desperate to prove to people he’s still a great player.”
While he expects Pietersen to be a force in the five-Test series, starting on November 25 in Brisbane, Cook said that he and skipper Andrew Strauss were determined to set the tone for the tourists at the top of the order.
“Obviously Straussy and I have been at the top of the order for a while now, we’ve done reasonably well and there’s always the pressure as an opener to set the tone,” Cook said.
“We’ve got that job, we’ve had that job for a while and we’ve done it well.
“It’s an area we appreciate we’ve got a lot of responsibility.
“Obviously as captain and vice captain as well, we like to set the tone for the rest of the team.”
Cook himself has a modest record against Australia, averaging 26.21 in 10 Tests with just one century, and admitted he had a point to prove in the upcoming series.
“The one side I haven’t played as well against than the other sides has been Australia,” he said.
“I’ve got that point to prove over the next three months.
“Last time (in Australia) I was obviously 21-years-old.
“To come here as an opening batter as a youngster was a very tough learning curve.
“It was my first year in international cricket as well.
“So to have 50-odd more games under my belt, seen a lot more, I think that experience will help.”
Cook also dismissed any concerns over his form during the English summer, when he scored over 20 only once in four Tests against Pakistan.
“This summer has been back at home, the conditions have been as tough as I’ve ever experienced back home,” he said.
“We as a whole unit found it tough and the Pakistan bowlers bowled well up there.
“It’s the toughest conditions I’ve ever played in.”
England open their tour with a three-day match against the struggling West Australian team at the WACA Ground on Friday.