Pietersen looks to unleash poise
Andy Flower has seen abundant signs that Kevin Pietersen will to return to match-winning status as England attempt to maintain their upturn in one-day international fortunes.
Pietersen remains without a one-day international fifty since November 2008, but team director Flower is convinced there is no reason for a drought which goes back 15 innings as England go into the final match of the NatWest Series against Australia at Lord’s on Saturday.
Flower is calling on the top-four engine room of England’s batting order to start scoring big runs consistently, so that less is routinely asked of a middle order led by the prolific Eoin Morgan, as the hosts seek to restate their supremacy over Australia.
Hopes of a 5-0 whitewash were dashed by a 78-run defeat at the Brit Oval yesterday as Australia finally made some sense of ICC world rankings which place them first and England fifth.
Flower’s reaction today was to focus on lessons learned, with a comparative lack of productivity from the top order in his sights.
Captain Andrew Strauss has vindicated Flower’s pre-series support, with two half-centuries so far, and Paul Collingwood has twice approached the 50-mark too.
Flower has seen evidence from Pietersen in the nets - and his all-too-short stays in the middle - to be sure he remains capable of long and dominant innings.
“I think he looks in superb form,” he said. “His balance is excellent. He is hitting balls through the off side as well as I have ever seen him.
“I would not so much look at 16 innings. He just needs to find the balance in decision-making which allows him to stay at the crease long enough for a big score.
“He is very hungry to do that for England. He wants to be a game-changer and a match-winner.
“Saturday will be a lovely stage for him at Lord’s,” added Flower.
“It would be great for him to score runs. But I don’t think it is a matter of him coming back into form - it is just a matter of him being able to stay long enough at the crease.”
England’s wide margin of defeat at The Oval may have come as a shock to those beginning to suspect those ODI rankings mean little.
Flower, however, knows his team are too canny for that.
“I don’t think we needed a reality check. We have our feet firmly on the ground - we are ranked number five in ODI cricket.
“If it was needed by people who watch us, that is out of our control.”
Instead, Flower and his charges have been reviewing the most recent evidence - and working out what it can teach them.
“Like most games we play, there are things to learn from the last one.
“The most obvious thing that stands out is the fact we need our top four to get away and get big scores.
“Cameos are useful, but the really big scores not only change the momentum of the game but often decide the result. We need our top four to get those big scores.
“Eoin Morgan has been superb for us in resurrecting certain circumstances and he started to do it yet again yesterday. But we want to put him in those circumstances less often.
“We want people like Morgan and (Luke) Wright to be there to improve innings that are already set up rather than having to try to resurrect them.”
Captain Strauss has helped to make “fearless cricket” the buzz phrase of the new regime.
But it transpires Flower is no fan of the term, and would like to see the 'F word' disappear altogether from England’s collective vocabulary.
“I really dislike the phrase ’fearless cricket’ - because it contains the word ’fear’.
“I would never use that word when talking to our players.
“What we have done over the last few months is to play brave and strong cricket. That is the type of cricket I want to play.
“It means being decisive, commit yourself to a decision, commit yourself to an improvement - throw yourself into it because of enjoyment and abandon.”