Flower confident England can win without stars
England's coach, Andy Flower, is confident that his team can build on the success and momentum they took from their historic victory over Australia at Lord's on Monday, regardless of whether their two star players, Andrew Flintoff and Kevin Pietersen, overcome their fitness concerns.
Amid the euphoria of England's first Ashes win at Lord's for 75 years, a result that gave them a 1-0 lead over Australia for the first time since 1997, there have been growing concerns about the ability of both Flintoff and Pietersen to take the field in the third Test at Edgbaston, which starts on July 30.
Pietersen, who struggled through the Lord's Test and made a laboured 44 from 101 deliveries in the second innings, will see a specialist later in the week, amid reports in some daily papers that he has already been ruled out of the contest. Though Flower denied that that was the case, he admitted that the prospect of surgery on Pietersen's troublesome Achilles tendon could not be ruled out at this stage.
"Kev is seeing a specialist later this week, they'll assess his Achilles problem, and we'll just get the expert advice and take it from there," said Flower. "I'd rather not make a prediction [about his fitness], I'll just let the medical guys make their decision. I don't know if an operation is the right action to take, but those sorts of decisions will be made by the end of the week."
Pietersen required four injections to get through the Lord's Test, and admitted at the weekend that the injury - the first significant problem of his career - has been playing on his mind "all day and every day". The same could not, however, be said of Flintoff, whose immense performance on the final morning at Lord's propelled England to victory with 10 unstinting overs off the reel.
Flintoff's final figures of 5 for 92 enabled him to become only the sixth player to score a century and take five wickets in Test cricket at Lord's, a belated statistical accolade in a career that has often gone under-rewarded. But Flower admitted to feelings of unease as he watched his star player thunder in in the closing stages of the match, with the result more or less sewn up already.
"Fred had a tough physical game," said Flower. "I was sitting up there thinking I'd quite like to see him taking a break, but he carried on, and he feels strong, and it worked out okay in the end ... I hope. Chatting to him afterwards he was very bullish about being ready for the third Test, but obviously with his injury record we have to be careful about wear and tear on his body, and he will be reassessed."
Regardless of what the doctors make of his conditions, with Steve Harmison finding menacing form for Durham in the County Championship, and James Anderson producing a superb four-wicket spell to help roll Australia over for 215 in their first innings at Lord's, Flower was confident that England have the fast-bowling resources to see them through an arduous summer.
"Flintoff is a world-class performer as we know, so if he's out of the side, of course that's a blow," said Flower. "But we've got a few fast bowlers waiting in the wings that we know can play international cricket, and can be very successful. Obviously we want Flintoff in the side, but we'll see if his body is up to it. If not there are other guys that can do good jobs for us. This is an Ashes series, a Test series, it's not his farewell series."
With a ten-day break between matches, England's players have got a timely opportunity to patch up their wounds before Edgbaston - and that includes the seamer Graham Onions, who was struck on the elbow while batting in England's first innings, and was said to be experiencing a lot of pain when he straightened his arm. "I should imagine he'll be fine because of the rest time available," said Flower.
"Usually the man involved knows his body best and can feel certain things," he added. "If the guys are fit enough to get through and contribute to winning Test matches, then they'll be selected. If they are not, it's not a tough decision to make, they are just not fit enough to be selected." Flower confirmed that, if Pietersen was unable to take part at Edgbaston, then Ian Bell - a squad member for the past two Tests - would be the logical man to stand in.
"When asked before the series if we believed we could win the series, I said yes," said Flower. "Whether we will win or not, we don't know. The guys are confident, but we'll have to play very good cricket. We're playing against the No.1 side in the world. We know they will regroup and come back strongly at us, so we've also got to regroup. Sometimes you can get distracted as much by winning as by losing. We have to regroup this following week as well, and hit them hard at Edgbaston."
Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo