Fletcher sticks to his guns
England's coach, Duncan Fletcher, has admitted his frustration at England's inability to compete on equal terms with Australia in this Ashes series, but insists he has no regrets over the controversial selections that have overshadowed the latter stages of the tour.
"There's no doubt about it, there was an opportunity where our batters could have gone out and got more runs," said Fletcher, as he rued England's failure to capitalise on a strong first-day showing, in which they bowled Australia out for 244. "But the wicket did seam around and when the bowlers got it in the right areas it was difficult to bat on. But I do believe they could have got more runs than that. One hundred or 150 runs ahead, you never know what could have happened."
It was a day when the temperatures out in the middle topped 45 degrees, but Fletcher insisted that his team had endured worse, particularly in the subcontinent, and added that, overall, the trials and tribulations of this Ashes tour were not a patch on those in 2002-03. "Last time in Australia was more difficult," he added. "There were more injuries than this and we felt we didn't really have the players to compete.
"This time we feel we haven't played as well as we could. Some batters haven't performed, and some bowlers too. But we've been through this before on numerous occasions, and we can bounce back with some positive cricket."
Monty Panesar was once again a rare note of success for England, as he added three more wickets to take his match tally to eight, but Fletcher stuck to his guns on the selection. "We're quite comfortable about who we've picked," he said. "This wicket bounced and turned, and it suited [Monty's] bowling, but we don't know what would have happened on the other wickets. At Adelaide it was really slow and took [Shane] Warne 84 overs to get four or five wickets."
Even so, Fletcher admitted that Panesar's eyecatching performance with the bat yesterday would force a rethink about his position in the batting order. "He's worked really hard and we are going to have to look at it," said Fletcher, after Panesar had made 16 not out in a tenth-wicket stand of 40 with Steve Harmison. "The only thing that concerns us is he sometimes struggles to build an innings. But we've seen him look pretty accomplished, and we're going to have to look at him moving up the order."
With England staring down the barrel tomorrow, more scrutiny is sure to fall on Andrew Flintoff, who has so far scored just 69 runs in five innings in the series. But Fletcher insisted that the captaincy was not overburdening his star player. "We spoke to Fred before we came out here, and we painted a picture of how difficult the burden would be," said Fletcher. "He's comfortable with it. He's still got a smile on his face. Captaining England is always going to be difficult, particularly in Australia, but he's batted well in patches, worked hard at his game, and hopefully tomorrow he'll come out and show the batter he was in 2005."
Although he was fully aware of the criticism heading his way, Fletcher was as phlegmatic as ever as he faced it down. "When have we ever stopped being criticised?" he joked. "When I took the job in South Africa and we were four wickets for one run we were criticised. It hasn't stopped since then.
"You're going to have your ups and your downs," he added. "We looked a very good side when we batted first at Adelaide, but it's a matter of applying the pressure and taking your chances. I've been doing this job for seven years and we've lost one series in 11, so it must have proved pretty successful.
"Even so, it's frustrating," he added. "We came out here wanting to win the Ashes and now we are 2-0 down. It's a huge, huge task tomorrow, but we've got to believe we can win it from here. There's no use us pitching up and thinking otherwise. Practically it's a very difficult challenge, but the individuals have got to come here and show what they are worth."
Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo