'England can fight back' - Flower
Andy Flower has said he believes England can fight back against Australia, despite heavy defeats in the first two Tests. England travel to Perth, where the third Test will begin on Friday, trailing 2-0 in the series and in imminent danger of losing the Ashes and Flower, the team director, said his players would have to improve their level of performance.
England have never come from two behind to win an Ashes series and, although a draw would be enough for them to retain the urn, their record at the WACA does not inspire confidence, with one Test victory in 12 visits. Flower, however, questioned the suggestion that Australia's desire has so far been greater than England's.
"I know that we can fight back into the series, absolutely," Flower said. "We have a history of playing competitive cricket and I know we have a mixture of experienced and young players, but a lot of these players have done some amazing things for England in the recent past, and we are going to have to fight for that to happen again.
"Quite frankly, usually in sporting contest when there are losses, especially heavy losses, one of the first areas people look at is lack of fight or the other side wanted it more. That's quite a simplistic view. We've been outplayed in these two Tests, very obviously, and the Australians have outplayed us in all three facets. We haven't been skilful enough for long enough to get into better positions in the matches. That's the crux there."
England on Tuesday named their limited-overs squads to play Australia after the Ashes, from which Kevin Pietersen, James Anderson and Graeme Swann were missing, and Flower said that a de facto rotation policy was intended to prevent fatigue affecting the Test XI.
"I don't think we're jaded," he said. "I don't think we have been skilful in dealing with what the opposition have thrown our way. I think that's part of the reason why we take players out of the spotlight occasionally is to ensure they don't burn out physically, or mentally of emotionally because the schedules are quite heavy. We try to make those decisions in a responsible manner. The main reason for pulling players out of squads is so that we can maximise their skills and their strengths when they do play. That is one of the challenges, the intensity and the regularity of or fixtures."
In four innings, England have only gone past 200 once and Flower admitted that getting big scores on the board, particularly in the first innings, was a priority. The highest individual score by an England batsman is Joe Root's 87, while the senior trio of Alastair Cook, Pietersen and Ian Bell have just one half-century apiece and Flower said that more was required of the team's experienced core, which includes the likes of Anderson and Swann.
"In these sorts of contests and series where the intensity levels are high, you do need your more experienced players, players who have been through similar situations in the past, to come through tough periods and play match-defining innings or produce pressure to create chances with the ball. Yes, absolutely we do," Flower said.
"I think past glories mean nothing in this context. We've got a big challenge to stop the momentum of the opposition and to get ahead in the game. One of those biggest challenges is getting a first innings score on the board. Without that you can't put pressure on the opposition. We had Australia 130 for six in Brisbane but since then they've been ahead in both games."
On the subject of whether some of England's problems were self-inflicted, with poor shot selection costing a number of players their wickets, Flower was clear. "It has happened too often," he said. "Any punter watching the game back home could tell you that. It is the responsibility of the players to find that balance. You can't score runs without playing shots but you have to assess the conditions, assess the balance of the pitch, assess the field setting and then you deliver your game plan accordingly."
England deployed both Swann and Monty Panesar in Adelaide but, with the WACA expected to offer pace and bounce, the requirement for spin will be reduced. Tim Bresnan, who would also stiffen the batting, has been tipped to return to the side after recovering from a back stress fracture, while Steven Finn, Chris Tremlett and Boyd Rankin all offer extra height and bounce. Flower, however would not be drawn on the subject of whether Swann, whose four wickets in the series have come at 99.25, would keep his place, or if England might consider an all-pace attack.
"The conditions in Perth will be very different," he said. "We picked two spinners and that was the right decision to make considering how it turned on day one. We will assess those conditions and we pick the side to give us the best chance of winning. Graeme Swann has been an outstanding spin bowler for us and been very much a part of England's success but we'll assess those conditions and see who will best able to help us 20 wickets."
22.00 GMT, December 10 - This article was updated with new material