KEVIN PIETERSEN went through the pain barrier to hit 82 for England against Australia at the MCG today.
The 26-year-old was hit in the ribs by a short ball from Glenn McGrath on 73 and was left to grimace his way through his final deliveries as England posted 242-8 in the Commonwealth Bank Series opener.
Pietersen, currently rated the world's second-best batsman in one-day cricket, struck the ball cleanly and consistently to hit three sixes but perished when he heaved to deep midwicket off Stuart Clark.
Andrew Flintoff's muscular strokes alongside Pietersen threatened to boost the scoring rate further but their separation and the dismissals of veteran debutant Paul Nixon and Jamie Dalrymple cheaply restricted the late progress.
Flintoff finished unbeaten on 47, from only 38 deliveries, having reverted to No6.
England will now be sweating on the well-being of Pietersen, their most prominent match-winner, hoping he has not broken a rib with this triangular tournament the final build-up towards the World Cup.
Play was halted for a number of minutes for physio Dean Conway to check out the damage and an ice pack was strapped to the bruised area as he made his way to hospital for a scan.
Coming to the crease in the 10th over, he lost partner Ian Bell after the drinks break when a loose drive was easily held at mid-off.
England were fortuitous not to lose Paul Collingwood as three times in his first half-a-dozen runs he might have been run out, while he was also missed on 21 when Cameron White lost the ball in the sun from a big hit to deep square-leg.
Earlier, Michael Vaughan fell just as his one-day return appeared in full flow.
Captain Vaughan, playing his first one-day international for 18 months, rode his luck early when an inside-edge off Nathan Bracken flew past leg-stump for four.
And he was just showing some of his old finesse when Bracken struck for a second time.
Having executed a fine pull for four and found the rope at cover with a square drive in the previous over off McGrath, the 32-year-old tried to force left-armer Bracken and was well held by Matthew Hayden, moving to his right at slip.
That intervention in the 10th over followed the dismissal of Andrew Strauss - returning after missing the Twenty20 thrashing in Sydney with a sore neck - to a stunning catch by Hayden, diving to his right to hold on to a nick in the gap between himself and the keeper.
It might have been worse for Vaughan's men but Bell survived first ball when a flashing chance behind flew off wicketkeeper Adam Gilchrist's gloves for four.
England made just one change from the side that played in Sydney on Tuesday night as the triangular tournament got under way in front of a 50,000 crowd.
Opener Strauss' return came in place of Ed Joyce, who received a gash to his head at the end of nets yesterday when struck on the head while bowling.
England were keen to get Liam Plunkett into their XI but he was unavailable for selection after also being struck by a ball yesterday, this time on the ankle.
That meant fast bowlers James Anderson and Jon Lewis kept their places while 36-year-old wicketkeeper Nixon and left-arm spinner Monty Panesar made their one-day international debuts.
Australia, meanwhile, were without fast bowler Brett Lee due to a bout of bronchitis.
There was nothing slow or sickly about the start to Australia's reply, however, with Gilchrist and Hayden catapulting them to 85-0 off just 12 overs.
Flintoff's first over went for 11 and he was taken for 33 off just four. Lewis conceded 22 off his first four and Anderson 28 as Gilchrist raced through to a half century.
In the 14th over, with Panesar into the attack with his left-arm spin, Gilchrist was 58 not out, Hayden 21 not out and Australia were making severe inroads on 95 without loss.
England's next match is against New Zealand in Hobart on Tuesday.