Flower: England can halt Gabba hurt
Andy Flower is quietly confident England can end Australia’s unbeaten Test run at the Gabba in the first Ashes encounter, which starts on Thursday.
The hosts have not lost a Test there since November 1988 when Viv Richards’ West Indies prevailed in the first match of a series they went on to win 3-1.
England’s last Test victory in Brisbane came two years earlier, the last time the tourists won the Ashes Down Under.
Despite history being against England, Flower believes they can take heart from another negative trend they reversed by beating Australia at Lord’s last year.
“They’ve got an outstanding record here,” said England’s team director, who gave his squad today off. “I think in the last 20 games they’ve won 16 and drawn four. That’s going to be quite a record to turn over.
“I think our side in the last 12 to 18 months has done a few good things, one of which was turning over that Lord’s record of not having beaten Australia there for 75 years. This is a challenge put in front of us and we’re looking forward to it.”
That victory at Lord’s, which put England ahead in a series they would go on to win 2-1, was marred only by an Achilles injury to Kevin Pietersen, which ended his 2009 summer.
Pietersen has so far been unable to rediscover with any consistency the world-beating form he brought to the England team before that injury struck.
His problems since his return a year ago have partly been against left-arm spin and he was bowled cheaply by another slow left-armer - Steve O’Keefe - in England’s 10-wicket win over Australia A in Hobart last week.
Perhaps accordingly, Australia have named Xavier Doherty - another left-arm orthodox - as a possible Test debutant this week.
But if that is a direct ploy to unsettle Pietersen, Flower thinks Australia are barking up the wrong tree.
“It’s not a cause for concern, not at all,” he said. “I thought he got quite a good ball the other day. It drifted and turned a bit at reasonable pace.
“He has had a lot of success against left-arm spin - and against Shane Warne, who bowled with a similar trajectory.
“He is playing very well; he’s spent some time in the middle over the last three games.
“He missed out in Hobart, but he is feeling very confident about his game - and I expect him to do well. I think he is in as good a nick as I could’ve hoped.”
While Pietersen’s fortunes could have a major impact on the series, Flower insists it will be England’s team performances that dictate the outcome.
“One of the great things about sport is we don’t know what’s going to happen, but we believe we’re a fine international side and that we have a good chance of winning,” he added.
“That’s our aim and why we’ve come all this way and done the hard work.”
Flower does not subscribe either to a dubious consensus, born perhaps of Steve Harmison’s first ball to second slip on England’s previous tour Down Under, that the first delivery of the series is likely to set in motion a chain of events which cannot be stopped.
“I’m not sure I agree it’s decided over one ball, or even a little more than that,” he said.
“We all realise the importance of setting the tone, but a five-match series won’t be lost over one ball. Our guys feel they can win the series.
“It has nothing to do with facing up in the first hour or attacking with the ball.
“We’re not concerned with that judgement; we’re concerned with getting ourselves ready for the match.”
Australia, meanwhile, are still more urgently concerned with getting their vice-captain Michael Clarke ready in time.
His back injury prevented him from batting at team practice today, and Australia physiotherapist Alex Kountouris admitted there are doubts about his participation - and the final decision may be left as late as Thursday morning.
Flower is working on the assumption Clarke regains his fitness.
“I’m expecting him to play," he said. "But we’re outside their camp, so we don’t know how serious the injury is.”
As for Doherty, England appear largely indifferent as to whether he takes part or not.
“We don’t know what happens in their selection meetings,” said Flower. “We’re not that concerned with it. Those are their decisions to make.”