Pietersen cannot replace Flintoff fire

If England's thoughts are beginning to turn to home it is not entirely because home is where they want to be. With only one week, two internal flights and three matches left of this tour it is natural that the attention of some of the squad should shift, whatever some observers may opine about the need for hard-nosed, focused professionalism.

But these home thoughts from abroad also have a different stimulus, since home is where Andrew Flintoff has been for the last 10 days. This one-day side have missed him desperately as any of his colleagues readily admit.

At the weekend, Flintoff's best friend, Stephen Harmison, said: "He's a massive part of this team, not only for his batting and bowling but because he's such an infectious character."

Yesterday, in the wake of the 108-run defeat in Cape Town on Sunday which allowed South Africa to take a 2-1 lead in the series, Andrew Strauss said: "Fred's a big loss in one-day cricket because he fulfils two very important functions. It's a little bit more difficult without him."

Strauss, as he probably knew, was understating the point. The man who has taken Flintoff's place in the team, Kevin Pietersen, has done everything that could reasonably have been asked of him with an unbeaten hundred and a 75 in four innings. But he cannot bowl Flintoff's 10 overs and England are having to mix and match from among the rest of the 11 to make the 50-over quota.

Having longed for Flintoff, who is recovering at home in Cheshire from surgery on the troublesome bone spur on his ankle, the obvious next thought is much more pleasant. It is the prospect of Flintoff and Pietersen together in the same one-day team. This is now as mouth-watering for England as it should dry the throats of opponents. They are two of the longest and hardest hitters anywhere.

Hard hitters, of course, need somebody to provide ballast, which is Strauss's job. He has had a lean time of it so far in the one-day series - 69 runs in four innings - after a wonderful run in the Test rubber, which has deprived England of a solid platform.

Strauss insisted that this was nothing to do with motivation. "This is a big one-day series and they've shown us over the last couple of games that they are a very good one-day side," he said.

"If we want to develop as a side leading up to the World Cup in 2007 we've got to try and ensure we use every series en route to that to improve, learn and gain experience. Nobody can take a back seat."

England have the makings of their most efficient one-day side for almost 15 years, not least because they now have some reasonable fielders. But Flintoff's absence and the complete loss of form of Harmison and Jimmy Anderson has exposed the bowling. The most efficient performer over the four matches has been a 34-year-old with a dodgy knee and a tendency to put on pounds, Pietersen's new best friend, Darren Gough.

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