Flower ponders selection options

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The Independent Online

Awkward selection decisions await England as they seek to re-establish their Ashes-winning credentials in Melbourne.

Coach Andy Flower, characteristically diplomatic, neither confirmed nor denied today that the promotion of Ian Bell above Paul Collingwood or a rest for Steven Finn may be on the agenda after the 267-run trouncing in Perth.

Flower has, however, temporarily at least discarded England's 'no-comment' policy about the opposition - publicly noting for the first time that Australia have problems of their own.

Most of the soul-searching was surely England's after they had been bowled out twice in under 100 overs by man-of-the-match Mitchell Johnson and Ryan Harris, to concede their series lead in the third Test.

Flower is fixing his attention on the future, and how England can bounce back - as they did to such great effect in last year's Ashes.

But he was happy to refer to the immediate past in one instance, to highlight a collective weakness in Australia's batting.

The prolific Michael Hussey and Shane Watson apart, Australia's top six have been less than productive in this series so far - with captain Ricky Ponting especially an unaccustomed weak link.

"There's no doubt that everything is not rosy in their camp - one Test match does not create that," said Flower.

"We realise that, and we will be looking to make the most of that in this next Test."

To do so, of course, England must make sure they maximise their own potential - and it is becoming increasingly questionable whether they are doing that by deploying Bell at number six.

He had four successive Test half-centuries to his name, before England's second innings at the WACA, despite often appearing to be compromised by having to bat with the tail.

One place above Bell, Paul Collingwood has not made a 50 in his last nine attempts at the highest level. "We're always looking at ways to improve our side," said Flower.

"Ian Bell looks in very good form, very confident - and has played beautifully throughout this tour."

Even so, the coach is mindful of doing more harm than good by disturbing a formula which has largely served England well.

"Jiggling with batting orders and personnel is always an option, but you also have to be careful about altering a side that has been very successful over the last 18 months."

Changes of some sort may come into the equation next week, though, with leading wicket-taker Finn continuing to leak runs as well as see off batsmen. This series has reached a critical point, and Flower added: "We're back to evens.

"Of course, tactically, we will adjust for Melbourne. It's a different set of circumstances.

"I think Steven Finn has done really well.

"For a 21-year-old to come into an Ashes series in Australia, he's handled himself superbly.

"He's taken a lot of wickets in three Test matches.

"I think we expect a lot of these young men, to come in and shoulder quite a lot of responsibility - and I think he's done that really well.

"A five-Test series is hard on everyone, both physically and emotionally, and for the fast bowlers more so."

Flower and captain Andrew Strauss will not be tempted to upset the balance of their team, however, by even considering picking an extra bowler.

"The workload on the bowlers is heavy - but in the absence of a quality all-rounder, we are sticking with a four-bowler attack," said the coach.

"We've shown over the last 18 months it's served us well."

In those circumstances, England need off-spinner Graeme Swann to recover his composure quickly after failing to make a significant impact in Perth - on a pitch which gave him precious little assistance.

Flower is convinced Swann will do so, having come off worst against Hussey in particular, both in Melbourne and perhaps more importantly in likely favourable conditions for the final Test in Sydney.

"Without a doubt, he can come back.

"He got him in the first innings of this Test, and I'd be surprised if Swann got intimidated by Michael Hussey.

"We'd have expected a guy of his quality to affect the momentum a little more.

"But once we got on that pitch, we all noticed it was tricky facing the quicks and the bounce was aiding them - and there wasn't much turn there for him - so it was a difficult task.

"I don't blame him for that at all - it was a tough 'ask'.

"Melbourne is a different set of conditions."

That statement might have been designed too for Johnson, who profited from the cross-wind at the WACA to undermine England with devilish late inswing.

Like the weather, though, Johnson can blow hot and cold.

Flower said: "I don't think we handled it particularly well, but it was a superb piece of fast left-arm swing.

"The way we will prepare for Melbourne is we expect the ball to swing - and we also expect us to play it better.

"When you play international cricket you expect international bowlers to be able to move the ball sideways, and that is what we will prepare for."