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March 3, 2013
Andy Flower, the England team director, has cautioned against over-hyping Joe Root's early success at international level after his form prompted discussion as to whether he should immediately be promoted to open in Tests, and which of the established top order he could force out for the 2013 Champions Trophy.
With the new split coaching role that has Ashley Giles in charge of the limited-overs squads, Flower has not been around the team during Root's impressive run in India and New Zealand since the start of this year. However, Flower did see at first hand Root's Test debut in Nagpur, where he made 73 off 229 balls in the first innings to help England towards their series-clinching draw.
Root gave another composed display during England's warm-up match against the New Zealand XI in Queenstown - scoring 49 in the first innings and contributing useful overs during the three-wicket defeat - ahead of a series where he is penciled in to retain the No. 6 position he had in Nagpur.
Root has already been given tags ranging from the opener-in-waiting to a future England captain, so while acknowledging what he had achieved in the embryonic stage of his career, Flower hoped expectations would not become too inflated.
"You've got to remember Joe Root has played one Test match," he said. "I think everyone should keep a little calm about his prospects. No one knows exactly how he's going to do, not Joe and none of us.
"But he has handled himself very well in the international competition and the opportunities he's been given so far. We look forward to him having a very successful career, but he's got to take it one step at a time - as do all of us."
Another impact of Root's emergence has been to increase the pressure on Nick Compton. Debate continues about one of the few questionable places in the England Test line-up despite Compton's solid performances in India. He made only 21 and 1 against the New Zealand XI to be, along with Kevin Pietersen, the most short of time in the middle.
"I thought Nick played really well in India," Flower said. "He had some tricky situations to deal with there - some extreme subcontinent conditions, obviously the pressure of playing in India for the first time. I thought he did extremely well out there, without getting the huge score. He put on some really valuable partnerships with Cook.
"He missed out in this game, having spent a bit of time there in the first innings when the ball was darting around. He's a good player."
The England squad made the three-hour journey to Dunedin, the venue for the first Test, on Sunday but before leaving picture-perfect Queenstown, Flower also reflected on a performance against the New Zealand XI that was less pleasing on the eye than the backdrop.
In both innings the top order failed to impose itself - the first innings was guided by a pleasing performance from Ian Bell and Matt Prior boosted the second - and the pace bowling was less-than-convincing as the New Zealand XI lost just seven wickets in each innings, chasing down 334 on the final day with eight balls to spare.
"Winning is a great habit to keep, but they played pretty well and I thought we were a little sloppy in a few areas," Flower said. "But there were some good things to come out of that game. I thought Bell and Prior were excellent with the bat.
"The bowlers, after a poor first-innings display, all got better in the second innings. It's not ideal, losing. But the crux of the matter is the first Test is four days away, and that's when it will count.
"I think there was ring-rustiness there, without a doubt. That was obvious for all to see. The point of playing these games is to get ready for the first Test. It was an excellent game of cricket ... all in all, a very good outing for everyone."
No one was rustier than seamer Graham Onions who had a forgettable match, ending with figures of 1 for 213 from 38 overs, which means Stuart Broad is assured of a return to the Test team although, as ever, Flower would not confirm any selection decisions. Broad was the pick of England's quicks as he put his troublesome heel through a solid work out, maintaining good pace in multiple spells, and did not appear hindered at any point.
"I'm very pleased," Flower said. "His heel is obviously a worry to him and to us. But it reacted well to the number of overs he bowled, and he came through it well. He is fit and available for selection for the first Test."
Still, half of England's bowling attack in the first Test will be pushing bodies that are not in prime order. Along with Broad's heel there is Graeme Swann's elbow to monitor. He spent six overs off the field on the final day in Queenstown, when he sent down 20 overs in total, for what was termed 'routine' work on the elbow, which underwent surgery in 2009 and will remain a concern for the rest of Swann's career.
Swann will have an immense workload in the next 12 months - unlike the quicks he is unlikely to consistently have someone to share the burden - and 15 Tests between now and the end of the back-to-back Ashes, not to mention the Champions Trophy, could stretch his joint to breaking point.
"Inevitably, there are niggles - the stresses and strains that are put on their bodies mean there always are," Flower said. "But at the moment everyone is fine."
Flower was also confident that, despite the bowling attack struggling in the absence of James Anderson and Steven Finn, there were enough resources to cover whatever situations occur.
"We've got some very fine international bowlers. That's why we've had a lot of success recently. We're always conscious of the contingency plans in case some of our star bowlers get injured - and because of the nature of the job they do, they are going to get injured. I am confident that, if we do have injuries, we will have bowlers who can create pressure and chances."
Andrew McGlashan is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfoFeeds: Andrew McGlashan
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