Umpire Kumar Dharmasena intervenes in a verbal spat between Mitchell Johnson and Kevin Pietersen.

Umpire Kumar Dharmasena intervenes in a verbal spat between Mitchell Johnson and Kevin Pietersen. Photo: Pat Scala

A wandering toddler has led to tempers rising, along with the wind, in a twisting and turning Boxing Day Test, with Mitchell Johnson and Kevin Pietersen coming face-to-face in an exchange that could leave the Australian fast bowler in hot water.

Johnson's unforgettable summer continued on Saturday when he rocketed to 31 wickets for the series - with a Test still to go - and also brilliantly ran out England's Joe Root.

Australia has dramatically reclaimed the upper hand with two days left, and needs 201 more runs to win and take a 4-0 lead after unbeaten openers David Warner (12) and Chris Rogers (18) took an early chunk off the tricky victory target of 231.

England should have been in charge but capitulated, losing 5-6 to be rolled for 179 in its second innings despite the best efforts of captain Alastair Cook (51) and Pietersen (49).

While others dropped off hopelessly around him as Johnson and Nathan Lyon - with a bag of five taking him past 100 Test wickets - cashed in, Pietersen was left to take the fight to Australia singlehandedly.

And even though tension between the teams had appeared to cool in Melbourne with the Ashes secured, antagonism is never far away when England's No. 4 is batting.

It came to a head after tea when Pietersen backed away from facing a Johnson delivery, forcing the left-armer to pull up as he rattled in.

In an angry reaction Johnson threw the ball at Pietersen's end - albeit ending up well away from the batsman on the off side.

That wasn't the end of the showdown. When Johnson tore in again, Pietersen dashed off for a single, and was confronted by the quick. Words were exchanged and umpire Kumar Dharmasena stepped in.

Pietersen was distracted by a young spectator at the members' end. ''There was a little baby that was crawling along the sightscreen just behind so I think health and safety might have been a bit cross if [the ball] had hit it,'' explained Jonny Bairstow, who was batting with him at the time.

Pietersen had earlier pulled out of playing while Peter Siddle was on his way in to bowl.

The incident came only hours after Cricket Australia's chief executive James Sutherland said he had conveyed to the ICC that they should crack down on volatile situations on the field if they felt they were out of hand.

''I've kept a close eye on this over the course of the summer and the conversations we've had with the ICC and the referees have been along the lines of, do you have major concerns, because if you do, you should be taking action,'' Sutherland said in an interview with the BBC.

''Obviously the players also have to take some responsibility but if there are issues out there, players need to be spoken to and if issues continue they need to be reported.

''That is what the code of conduct is there for. I have said that a number of times to the ICC. If Australian players are crossing the line I fully expect them to be reported under the code of conduct.''

Lyon saw the lighter side of the Johnson-Pietersen stoush. ''I think they're going out for dinner tonight for Christmas,'' the spinner joked.

While Dharmasena tried to bring that pair under control the umpires could do nothing about the wind.

After a hot day in Melbourne it increased in the final session, causing repeated delays as plastic bags and other rubbish blew on to the field and a beach ball had to be run off the ground by Lyon.

Heavy bails were placed on the stumps but even they failed to hold in a bizarre moment when Australian wicketkeeper Brad Haddin celebrated the apparent wicket of Pietersen.

Replays showed the 33-year-old had not, as Haddin's reaction indicated, stepped on to his stumps, but that the bails had been blown off by the wind.

Losing partners rapidly, Pietersen was out not long after in any case, blazing away at Lyon and caught in the deep by Ryan Harris.