Flower positive on England prospects
Team director Andy Flower believes England can draw benefits from their chastening experiences in the United Arab Emirates as they look to bounce back in a two-Test series against Sri Lanka.
Andrew Strauss’ men were largely undone by Pakistan’s slow bowlers as they suffered a surprise 3-0 defeat on their last Test assignment, with off-spinner Saeed Ajmal enjoying particular success.
However, at a media conference at Heathrow Airport prior to England’s departure for the sub-continent this morning, Flower insisted he was not concerned by the prospect of further trials by spin.
“I expect our batsmen to be better able to deal with Sri Lanka’s spinners from some of the challenges we had in the new year,” explained the Zimbabwean.
“If we can show what we learned from two months in the UAE, we can expect to do well.
“The good thing about playing people like Ajmal is as you get exposed to them, you get better. That’s how we grow, by challenging ourselves and by putting ourselves in tougher situations than we would normally come across.
“Playing in sub-continental conditions against good spinners will, without doubt, add to our batsmen's growth.”
Although well beaten in the five-day arena last time out, England responded superbly by winning six of the seven limited-overs internationals against Pakistan that followed, including all four 50-over matches.
Alastair Cook and Kevin Pietersen were key to the tourists’ success, both scoring back-to-back centuries in an ODI whitewash.
Asked if England’s improved performances in the shorter formats could prove a significant factor ahead of their return to Test action, Flower responded: “Definitely. I was really proud of the way the group turned things around in the UAE.
“I thought it showed a lot of strength of character and unity, and, on the scoring runs front, I think that was quite important.
“Kevin Pietersen showing what a destructive batsman he can be, and what a class international batsman he can be, was really great for all English cricket supporters to see, and I’m one of those obviously. I really enjoyed watching him play in that limited-overs series.
“Alastair Cook was another one who didn’t score very heavily in the Test matches, but showed brilliant form in the one-dayers, so that is important to people’s confidence, even if it is a different form of the game.
“I am confident we will perform better than we did in the Tests against Pakistan. It was really good to see how we responded after the Test series. There were obvious signs that our batsmen had learned something.”
A number of England’s players, including skipper Strauss, are already in Sri Lanka, having headed out on March 5 for additional preparation with batting coach Graham Gooch.
“Everything has been good over there,” added Flower. “It has been a well-organised camp.
“I’ve spoken with Goochie and they have been working hard. They have been doing two sessions a day on their skills and then fitting in at least one fitness session as well.
“The preparation and early acclimatisation available to that group is going to be worthwhile.”
The entire squad will be forced to cope with stifling heat and humidity throughout the tour and Flower acknowledges much will depend on how his team adapt to conditions.
“I think it (the humidity) will be a significant factor, yes - for the bowling side certainly,” he said.
“And then concentration levels for everyone, because fatigue certainly affects concentration and your decision making. Our fitness levels and how we react to that sort of fatigue will be very important.”
Flower did, however, play down suggestions that England would need to field five frontline bowlers if they were to achieve success in Sri Lanka.
“If the conditions determine that two specialist spinners should play, they can take up a lot of the workload and then your seamers operate as out and out attacking bowlers,” he reasoned.
“So it doesn’t mean that you have to play five bowlers. We saw two (fast bowlers) and two (spinners) work effectively in the UAE.
"I still think with two specialist spinners taking up a lot of the overs, and if it’s spinning that’s what they’ll do, you can still take 20 wickets with four bowlers.”