Bell axed but Flower resists wholesale changes

Tim Bresnan. AP
Tim Bresnan. AP
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Andy Flower is confident the batsmen who took England to the top of world cricket are still the ones most likely to keep them there.

The England coach has precious little time to help his team regain confidence and discover the knack of playing in Asia following their 3-0 Test series drubbing by Pakistan ahead of four one-day internationals and three Twenty20s against the same opponents.

His new chief allies will be limited-overs captains Alastair Cook and Stuart Broad, rather than Test leader Andrew Strauss, and other changes in personnel include a sabbatical for the out-of-form Ian Bell.

Flower made it clear that 29-year-old Bell, one of the pillars of England’s Ashes success and their surge to the top of the Test rankings, faces a significant examination of his talent and determination to resume his ODI career after 108 caps.

He also confirmed that, after naming a 15-man ODI squad, Kevin Pietersen, who like Bell endured a miserable run of scores against Pakistan’s spinners, will open the batting.

Wicketkeeper Craig Kieswetter can, therefore, expect to be deployed in the middle order.

In the bigger picture, Flower must raise spirits and improve technique, while being sure in his mind whether there is any need to bow to the inevitable clamour to bring new batsmen into the Test arena.

But a sudden raft of changes appears unlikely.

“You don’t always succeed, and when that is the case it can create some doubts,” said Flower. “But the best players come through those moments of doubt and come out with a stronger package.

“Of course, there is a cut-off line where it would be stupid to continue along the same path if it’s not being successful. In the main, I don’t think we’re there with this group of players.

“This is not a closed shop, everyone’s aware of that, but this group of batsmen have done an outstanding job for England and have very good international records over the past few years.”

England were well aware they faced an especially awkward challenge, in their first series since becoming the International Cricket Council’s No 1 team, against Pakistan in the United Arab Emirates.

Even so, Flower was taken aback by the size of the problems encountered. “It was quite strange and surprising to find so many of our batsmen low on confidence during this tour,” he said. “But we can do something about that and are working hard to do so.”

Bell was part of last autumn’s 5-0 ODI defeat in India, where he played in just one match, and it is a moot point whether his demotion is a result of his poor Test form or simply because England Lions hopefuls are pushing especially hard for inclusion.

“Ian Bell is a very fine player who has had a hard time in this Test series and hasn’t had that many chances recently in one-day cricket for us,” added Flower.

“I spoke to him yesterday about the one-day situation and he was very mature in his acceptance of it. What I did say to him was that this doesn’t mean that his one-day career is necessarily over.

“He’s not too old to fight his way back into the side and he’s a very fine international cricketer.

“It depends how this group of players plays, whether any gaps open up in the future. If he can fight his way back in, good on him.”

Among those who may block Bell’s route back are as yet uncapped Jos Buttler, who is included in the full squad for the first time after a productive Lions tour of Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.

As for Pietersen, Flower believes a return to the top of the order may be highly advantageous.

“He is going to be opening the batting for us in this series and that should be really exciting to watch,” he said.

“We started with him in that position in the World Cup (last year) and unfortunately he got injured and had to go home early. But he showed glimpses of what he could do.

“He’s a very, very fine cricketer – a very dangerous cricketer – and someone we’d like to give the option of facing as many balls as possible in the limited-overs game.

“If he stays in long enough, he will win games for us in that position. It hasn’t worked out well for him at No 4 recently, but I’m really excited to see him embrace the challenge of opening.”

Yorkshire duo Tim Bresnan and Jonny Bairstow are in the one-day international and Twenty20 squads but the former’s participation is still subject to fitness checks.

The Yorkshire seam bowler had to leave this tour of the United Arab Emirates because of post-operative elbow pain before the start of the Test series. He was able to bowl on the edge of the square during the lunch interval on the final day of the Test series.

Cook’s team face England Lions on Friday in Abu Dhabi, in preparation for the four-match series.

Broad’s 15-man Twenty20 squad includes opener Alex Hales for a three-match series and national selector Geoff Miller said: “We have selected two squads that include both experienced international players and younger players who have performed strongly for England Lions in recent months and deserve an opportunity to further test themselves against quality opposition.

“Playing against Pakistan in the UAE will be challenging, but it is important that these players continue to develop their skills so that we are able to make strides in limited-overs cricket, particularly on the sub-continent.”