Andy Flower dismisses Kevin Pietersen 'outcast' jibe

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The Independent Online

England will stand together against Australia throughout this winter's Ashes - and that includes Kevin Pietersen.

Coach Andy Flower this morning found himself responding to claims from Shane Warne that Pietersen is an "outcast" in an otherwise closely-knit touring squad.

He duly gave no credence to that suggestion from the great ex-Australia leg-spinner, who appears to believe his fellow former Hampshire player's relationship with the national team suffered after he lost the captaincy at the start of last year.

Flower, whose team will face Australia at the Gabba in the first Test from Thursday, is bemused by Warne's rationale. "He's anything but an outcast," he said.

"He's a good guy to have in the dressing room, a great player to have on your side - a very dangerous player that the opposition worry about.

"We expect great things from him and (also) that he takes part in team dynamics like everyone else does - and that is what he does."

Flower concedes the mercurial Pietersen has a compulsion to take the starring role, but reasons that is no bad thing for someone so talented.

"We do have very good team unity, and that is one of our strengths.

"But Kevin does like the big stage, and that's one of the great things about him.

"He enjoys the pressure situations; he enjoys the chance to bat brilliantly while everyone's watching.

"It's part of what makes up a very fine competitor."

Pietersen has so far been unable to rediscover with any consistency the world-beating form he brought to the England team before the Achilles injury he suffered mid-Ashes last July. He was clean-bowled cheaply by a slow left-armer - Steve O'Keefe this time - in England's 10-wicket win over Australia A in Hobart last week.

Failures against that style of bowling have become all too common for him, and Australia have named Xavier Doherty - another left-arm orthodox - as a possible Test debutant this week.

But if that is a direct ploy to unsettle Pietersen, Flower thinks Australia are barking up the wrong tree.

"It's not a cause for concern, not at all," he said.

"I thought he got quite a good ball the other day. It drifted and turned a bit at reasonable pace.

"He has had a lot of success against left-arm spin - and against Shane Warne, who bowled with a similar trajectory.

"He is playing very well; he's spent some time in the middle over the last three games.

"He missed out in Hobart, but he is feeling very confident about his game - and I expect him to do well. I think he is in as good a nick as I could've hoped."

Pietersen's fortunes will surely have a major impact on the forthcoming series.

But weighing all the factors, Flower said: "One of the great things about sport is we don't know what's going to happen, but we believe we're a fine international side and that we have a good chance of winning. "That's our aim and why we've come all this way and done the hard work."

The England coach does not subscribe either to a dubious consensus, born perhaps of Steve Harmison's Gabba horror show on England's last ill-starred tour down under, that the first ball of the series is likely to set in motion a chain of events which cannot be stopped.

"I'm not sure I agree it's decided over one ball, or even a little more than that," he said.

"We all realise the importance of setting the tone, but a five-match series won't be lost over one ball.

"Our guys feel they can win the series.

"It has nothing to do with facing up in the first hour or attacking with the ball.

"We're not concerned with that judgement; we're concerned with getting ourselves ready for the match."

Australia, meanwhile, are still more urgently concerned with getting their vice-captain Michael Clarke ready in time.

His back injury prevented him from batting at team practice today, and Australia physiotherapist Alex Kountouris admitted there are doubts about his participation - and the final decision may be left as late as Thursday morning.

Flower is working on the assumption Clarke regains his fitness.

"I'm expecting him to play. But we're outside their camp, so we don't know how serious the injury is."

As for Doherty, England appear largely indifferent as to whether he takes part or not. "We don't know what happens in their selection meetings," said Flower.

"We're not that concerned with it. Those are their decisions to make."