England opt out of Sydney nets session as Ashes series whitewash looms

England decided to skip their scheduled New Year’s Day net practice – just two days after coach Andy Flower hinted he wanted “more intensity”.

Andy Flower

Flower had taken issue with a suggestion his regime might be too intense – hinting instead that he perhaps needs to consider a more regimented style.

Yet with just two days to go before England try to salvage some pride by avoiding an Ashes whitewash in the final Test in Sydney, the mixed messages kept coming. Cricket Australia was quick to flag up the “surprising decision” which it described as being taken “in the midst of an Ashes annihilation”.

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It is a moot point whether England’s actions, or inaction in this case at the SCG, speak louder than Flower’s words.

In the aftermath of a fourth successive Test defeat in Melbourne, he discussed at length on Monday how his coaching tenure has evolved. However he made it clear he hopes to carry on, despite England’s hugely disappointing campaign here this winter.

England opted out of their scheduled 8.30am net session but did run extended fielding drills and catching practice on the outfield 90 minutes later – an act not lost on Cricket Australia who decided to make a story of it on its official website.

“In the midst of an Ashes annihilation, England decided a net session was unnecessary two days out from the fifth and final Commonwealth Bank Ashes Test in Sydney,” its website read.

“Following their capitulation in Melbourne, the tourists’ surprising decision means they’ll have just one session on game eve to attempt to paper over the cracks and stop Australia completing only the third 5-0 whitewash in Ashes history.”

Both England and Australia fulfilled an official invitation to meet Prime Minister Tony Abbott at his Sydney residence with practice therefore arranged beforehand.

The hosts, hoping to inflict a second whitewash in three tours on England, held an optional net session which was well-attended but featured little bowling from their frontline seam attack.

It fell, meanwhile, to the uncapped Scott Borthwick to explain England’s decision to leave batting and bowling practice for another day. Asked why nets were shelved, he said: “No reason whatsoever. We just had a nice run around, bit of catching... we’ll do our skills tomorrow.”

Borthwick was able to fine-tune his leg-spin behind the scenes in Melbourne last week, while Alastair Cook’s team were losing again in the middle.

The 23-year-old is pinching himself to be involved in the Ashes in any capacity, having had his packing for a return home from playing Sydney Grade cricket interrupted just before Christmas by a phone call from Flower.

Monty Panesar took the spinner’s role in Melbourne, but there is a strong possibility either off-spinner James Tredwell or Borthwick may replace the slow left-armer after his lacklustre display in the fourth Test and because he is also suffering from a “tight calf”.