Cloggered by the Dutch but England can still win Ashes

Expect Flower's men to be contrary, even if Pietersen must be a doubt for key series
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The Independent Online

What fun it will be in August. People all over the country and indeed the world will shake their heads in wonder and ask: "How on earth can a team lose to Holland and win the Ashes in the space of a few weeks?"

If this conversation seems to be entering the realms of fantasy after what happened to England at Lord's on Friday night, it is what the team must cling on to in the coming weeks. It is all they can cling on to because in the space of a few hours too much went wrong.

There was an injury to their leading batsman, Kevin Pietersen, which seemed all too predictable. This must cast doubt over him for the rest of the summer, although England with what seems like foolhardiness, insisted yesterday that he may still be available against Pakistan today if the cortisone injection he was given takes effect.

There was the selection of a debutant, Adil Rashid, who had not been in the squad a week earlier and, with equal predictability, looked out of his depth at a critical moment. Selected as one of only four specialist bowlers, he had to bowl the 17th over which went for nine runs. And there was the culmination – defeat to Holland by four wickets in the opening match of the World Twenty20. England played cricket which was far from nerveless and were outplayed. It was a stunning turn of events.

Sometime one of the leading cricket countries was bound to lose a game of Twenty20 to one of the lesser nations. The fact is that the shorter the format, the less the gap in class. But for England, as the host nation, to become the first by going down to Holland was catastrophic.

In 1983, an Australian side containing Allan Border and Dennis Lillee lost the opening match of the World Cup to Zimbabwe, who were then mere qualifiers. Twenty years later, Kenya beat Sri Lanka and reached the semi-final.

But this was a match at Lord's against a side with nine part-time players representing a nation where cricket is frequently still played on matting wickets. It could have been designed to ease England's passage to the next phase.

The result, one which forced you into laughter because the alternative is that the tears would never subside, put into perspective the advances that England have made in the past few months, against an increasingly pitiful West Indies. If ever a warm-up victory of the overwhelming nature England had managed two days earlier provoked false assumptions, that was it. It was meaningless and nothing that the West Indies did yesterday against Australia lent it gravity.

Since only five members of the team who lost on Friday are likely to play in the Ashes, the effect may not necessarily be profound. But England were insistent that their previous feelgood factor was transferable so it might work the other way too.

Andy Flower, the team's coach, said with his usual candour: "The guys were under pressure after the way the Dutch started. It was a difficult situation in that some of the Dutch players played with complete freedom. To a certain extent I actually enjoyed watching them play with such freedom and enjoyment and passion."

England, however, got much wrong and the mood 24 hours later remained one of disbelief. They should not lose to Holland at the home of cricket.

Pietersen's late withdrawal was hardly ideal despite his failure so far to make an impact in Twenty20. He awoke on Friday with severe pain in the achilles tendon injury which had caused him to miss the one-day series against West Indies. He had a cortisone injection in his back, which the team's medical staff thought might be causing the achilles pain.

Flower said: "There's a reasonable chance he might play on Sunday but they are terrible injuries. I had an achilles problem for about five years while I was playing. They hang around for a hell of a long time and with our schedules we don't get any huge chunks of time off. You need months to get rid of those sort of problems altogether."

That seemed as pessimistic as it could get. It indicated that Pietersen might be patched up but that he may be playing with injury and discomfort through the Ashes and beyond. To the layman it seems to make sense to rest him now and give him some chance of rest before the summer's later challenges.

"Before we made the final selection leading up to this tournament I specifically asked for medical advice on that," said Flower. "If the medical advice had suggested resting him leading up to five Test matches against Australia we would have done so. I don't necessarily think that advice was wrong."

The selection of Rashid was befuddling. He was neither impressive nor unimpressive on his winter sojourn with England where he had limited opportunities. But in the nets he did not look ready for international cricket. He has had a slow start this summer and small wonder for he has hardly been operating in conditions conducive to leg spin. Yorkshire left him out of their opening two Twenty20 matches when he was called up by England to replace the injured Andrew Flintoff.

"We decided to play a leg spinner against all the Dutch right handers," said Flower. "Rashid also bowled very well against the West Indies and we thought he'd be a wicket-taker." As it happened, Rashid took one wicket and it was possible to wonder if England had been playing, say, South Africa, a side full of right-handers, whether they'd have given a maiden international cap in the first match of a world tournament to a 21-year-old reserve.

England might have got what they deserved. Their innings which started in a blaze fell badly away. Paul Collingwood, their captain, sometimes looked perplexed (though T20 can do that to anybody), the throwing at the stumps was poor yet again.

Flower defended his captain. "Over the last few months and even in the last couple of days leading up to this game, I think we have had some really good leadership," he said. "Colly led the team well. I think we were outplayed in the second half on Friday."

But as Flower also observed, Twenty20 is the perfect game to play for underdogs. So England to beat Pakistan at The Oval today, resurrect their Twenty20 ambitions and Ashes here they come.