Flower praises 'perfect game'
Andy Flower has praised his players for producing "the perfect game" in their innings-and-71-run victory over Australia at Adelaide last week, but has challenged them to maintain the same intensity that has put them 1-0 up with three Tests remaining of this year's Ashes series.
Speaking in Melbourne shortly after the team's arrival, and ahead of their three-day warm-up match against Victoria, Flower admitted how proud he had been of a performance that England had dominated from the moment Simon Katich was run out without facing in the first over of the match. But, he quickly added, there is always room for improvement.
"From anyone's point of view, the players are proud of the way they performed in that Test and rightly so, and so are we as the coaching group," said Flower. "It was a superb effort. You don't often get the perfect game like that, do you, when you bowl the opposition out on a good deck on the first day, then get a big lead and bowl them out again before you have to bat again. It was lovely."
With Alastair Cook following up his Brisbane double-hundred with another big score of 148, and Kevin Pietersen emerging from his lean trot with 227, the highest score of his Test career, England were able to post an imposing first-innings total of 620 for 5 declared, their highest score against Australia since the Second World War.
Flower, however, believes that is just the start for his squad. "Without a doubt we can improve," he said. "That's the first time that we've seen batsmen back up big hundreds with more big runs - it's not often that our guys deliver big hundreds consecutively - and that's a great thing to see. But one outstanding match doesn't give you any guarantee of success in the future. So we are always looking to improve and that's what we are doing. Fielding-wise, we didn't take every chance, and while that's not always possible, it's an area we can never be complacent about."
England's attentions now turn to the Melbourne warm-up match, a first-class fixture that Flower insists will be tackled with the same intent as each of the three games that preceded the Brisbane Test. On the bowling front, that goes without saying, given that Stuart Broad's injury (and James Anderson's temporary absence through paternity leave) has opened the door to the three reserve seamers in the squad, who will be desperate to impress with the Perth Test fast approaching on December 16.
Flower insisted that he already had a good idea in his own mind which of the three men - Chris Tremlett, Tim Bresnan and Ajmal Shahzad - would be best suited to the WACA conditions, and that surely has to be Tremlett, given that his 6'8" frame will be ideally suited to a venue that is expected to offer the sort of carry that once earned it the reputation as the fastest wicket in the world.
"I expect pace and bounce," said Flower. "Chatting to the curator during the three-day game against Western Australia [last month], he said he wanted the Test pitch to have more pace and bounce than the pitch we played on. It should make for exciting cricket."
"Tremlett brings you heavy bounce, with the ball coming from that height, and he bowls a consistent length," said Flower. "He's not express pace, but it's imposing as a batsman when someone of that height and size is running in at you. He'll bring consistency with that bounce, and that's why he did well this last English summer, because he bowled a consistent length."
Both Shahzad and Bresnan would also offer plenty to England's cause, however, as Flower went on to spell out their respective merits. "Bresnan is an experienced cricketer, even though he's relatively young," he said. "He's a strong man, he's accurate, he bowls skilful reverse swing, and obviously he bats and fields as well. While some quarters view him as a medium pacer, he bowls quick enough to beat good players. He's got a quick bouncer.
"Shahzad bowls very well at left-handers, and we saw that at Hobart," said Flower. "That's not to say he's not effective against right-handers, but he's more dangerous against left-handers. He's got enough pace to beat good players, and if the ball reverses he can reverse it both ways. And he's fit and strong and can run in for you all day."
While none of the three options has the same experience as Broad, Flower insisted that the aim was not to find a like-for-like replacement, but for whoever is selected to be their own man. "Stuart brought a lot of things to our side, and we will miss him greatly," said Flower. "But whoever takes his place will have to maximise whatever his strengths are, and not try to replace Stuart Broad or in anyway be like him. He's got to be himself."
IF England need any encouragement to keep their feet on the ground, they need only remember what happened in the last Ashes in England in 2009, when they squandered a hard-earned series lead at Lord's with a thumping defeat at Headingley two matches later, and again in South Africa the following winter, when a superb innings victory in Durban was counteracted by a crushing defeat in Johannesburg that left the series squared at 1-1.
Flower, however, looked at those examples as inspiration for the team to maintain their current high standards. "You learn the value of consistency and having the mental and emotional strength to remain on an even plane," he said. "And also you learn that you have to work hard to ensure that your skills are in order, that they can survive and thrive under pressure over a long period of time and not just periodically. For us as a group, those are all good learning experiences.
"I think they are all well equipped to do it, but there are no guarantees," he added. "That's the nature of international sport and that's what makes it exciting. We don't know what's going to happen. But our group is quite strong in that regard at the moment, and I expect them to be more consistent than we were in the past."
Probable England team v Victoria 1 Andrew Strauss (capt), 2 Alastair Cook, 3 Ian Bell, 4 Paul Collingwood, 5 Eoin Morgan, 6 Matt Prior, 7 Steve Davies (wk), 8 Tim Bresnan, 9 Ajmal Shahzad, 10 Chris Tremlett, 11 Monty Panesar.
Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo.