Flower pleased with Melbourne 'reality check'
England's coach Andy Flower believes that the deathly slow surface that England encountered in their drawn three-day warm-up match against Victoria this week was the perfect reality check after the highs of the Adelaide Test, and has backed his pace bowlers to take command of the livelier conditions that are anticipated at the WACA this week.
England's trip to Melbourne was billed as a three-way shoot-out between Chris Tremlett, Tim Bresnan and Ajmal Shahzad, all of whom were in with a shout of replacing Stuart Broad in the Test attack following his stomach injury. However, on a tacky and docile pitch that offered little to any types of bowling, the trio returned combined figures of 1 for 216 in 78 overs to leave the selection debate somewhat cloudy.
Flower, however, insisted that the identity of Broad's replacement was still clear in his mind, although he would - as ever - wait until the morning of the match to unveil his final XI. "We've just had a three-day game on a pitch nothing like the Perth pitch," he said. "It was quite hard work for fast bowlers and spinners alike, but quite a good exercise in getting back to reality for our team. After the highs of Adelaide, it was a really good workout, and now we've got to come and prepare for different conditions in Perth."
"It was a good thing for us," he added. "The hard work they had to put in, the number of overs they had to put in against a good Victorian side, was the perfect workout prior to this game. They have three days between the end of that match and this Test match, and it was ideal for the team as a whole. Adelaide was an important moment in the series and it was very important for us to keep our feet firmly on the floor thereafter, and the Victoria game helped us do that."
While Flower believed that the MCG wicket would be an entirely different beast come the Boxing Day Test match, he was pretty confident that this week's WACA surface would offer significantly more life, if not quite the devastating pace and carry with which it forged its reputation from the 1970s onwards.
"We don't want to pre-judge what it will be like," said Flower. "It hasn't got the pace of yesteryear, but we do know this season it's got a little quicker than past few years, which is great. We talked about it here [with the curator] during the three-day game, and he was a little disappointed with that pitch - not quite as quick as he thought it might be - and he indicated he wanted it as quick and bouncy as possible for the Test match, which I think is really exciting for everyone. It gives everyone a good chance and certainly makes for exciting cricket and that's why we're here. We're here to compete and it should be an interesting spectacle for everyone.
If the onus is on Australia to prepare sporting pitches in order to force the two wins in three matches that they need to regain the Ashes, then the likelihood of result-orientated surfaces could also play into the hands of the English, who would back themselves to claim 20 more wickets in conditions that play to the strengths of their spin and seam attack.
"It gives everyone a chance, but in Test cricket generally those are the types of wickets we want to play on," said Flower. "We want something that makes it interesting to watch and also interesting to play in. Some of the bland pitches that we see these huge scores and deadly boring draws on are not good for Test cricket, so we do want pitches where it's a fair contest between bat and ball and good action for the spectators to watch."
In the short term, the focus of many of England's players will be on the wives and children who have flown into Perth for the start of the festive season, having been forced to stay at home during the initial agenda-setting month of the trip. Some players, notably Kevin Pietersen, were less enamoured with the decision than others, but Flower maintained that the right work-play balance had been struck for the squad.
"It's quite a tricky decision to make," he said. "Players and families are adults, and they want to be free to make their own decisions about which country they travel to or the timings of those trips. For other people, the management, to make those decisions for them is a little galling, but those are tricky decisions to make. Someone has to make them and we try to get it as right and as fair as possible.
"We planned this a long time ago and the players were fully informed so we had full discussions and communication about it," he added. "You can't get everyone agreeing to whatever dates you put in, but the players in the end did react very well to it. We're here to win the Test series, we aren't here for a family holiday, and I think everyone's handled it just fine so far."
James Anderson, who flew home after the Adelaide Test to attend the birth of his daughter, has arrived back with the squad after spending 48 hours of the past week on a plane, which Flower reiterated wasn't an ideal situation for such a key player. But, he added: "In competition, you can't always get perfect preparation. There are all sorts of things that can go wrong. Illness, injury, sometimes travel disruptions, family issues. This is just one of those things you've got to deal with, a little bit of reality that he has to deal with. He'll have the same amount of practice as the rest of the guys."
Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo.