Pietersen's power has thrilling England one step from glory

But Flower tries to play down his side's transformation from limited-overs no-hopers to innovators who are looking good for World Twenty20 success
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The Independent Online

In case anybody assumed England were actually going places, Andy Flower was there to issue a stark reminder: "I would say this is not the time for back-slapping. We have a final tomorrow, we haven't achieved anything yet."

There was more where that came from. As the England coach for a year, who annexed the Ashes at the first time of asking and whose one-day blueprint has enabled his team to reach the World Twenty20 final here, Flower remains stoically pragmatic.

"I wouldn't describe our progress in limited-overs cricket as satisfactory at all to be honest," he said. "At least we are heading in the right direction. We have a game to win tomorrow and if we don't win it, we won't be the holders of any world cup. It is as simple as that. As a player the time for looking back is when you finish your career. Our focus is on the future, not looking back."

Perhaps it is this studied determination that has transformed England's one-day team. They have gone from being no-hopers to genuine contenders almost overnight. Win or lose tomorrow, their advance has been palpable and Flower, despite the caution, knows it.

Selections that, a mere fortnight ago, appeared to be based on little more than a hunch have turned out to be inspired. Neither Craig Kieswetter nor Michael Lumb, the South African opening batsmen, had played a T20 international before this tournament, Mike Yardy, the left-arm spin bowler now acknowledged as a master of the cunning arts needed by slow bowlers in limited-overs cricket, had been out of the team for three years. They were the final pieces in the jigsaw according to the captain, Paul Collingwood.

In only one match so far has the Lumb-Kieswetter combination failed and their other partnerships have ranged from 24 to 68, meaning that England have generally had a platform. Yardy might have taken only four wickets in the six matches England have played thus far in the tournament but he has conceded only six runs an over, the best economy rate among England's bowlers in the competition: not pretty but constantly effective.

Flower has supervised the personnel changes and the amended approach which has seen England playing a much more assertive (not to mention authoritative) style of cricket. They reached the Champions Trophy semi-final in South Africa last autumn and are now in their fifth limited-overs world final, the previous four in 1979, 1987, 1992 (all World Cups) and 2004 (Champions Trophy) having been lost.

There is an element of chance in T20 because of the concentrated nature of the proceedings. But make no mistake, England have got so far because they are one of the outstanding teams in this competition. From the start of the second stage, the so-called Super Eights on, they have played thrillingly and positively in a way that has been so alien to their usual natures that it could have been foreseen only by those doing the selecting.

"We have played some really good cricket," said Flower, conceding a little. "We started off the winter in the Champions Trophy and started playing reasonable limited overs cricket. We carried that on beating South Africa and now we have transferred a bit of that into the Twenty20 stuff.

"I've been very pleased with the way the guys have played in this tournament so far, the batsmen have shown confidence and innovation and power, made good decisions and handled themselves well under pressure. The bowlers have shown a lot of skill and nous in working with Collingwood and used the conditions to our advantage. Things like wind and using the size of the boundaries.

"We are always looking to improve areas. I think our fielding has been good at times and at others a bit sloppy."

Flower also suggested that the batsmen might have gone on to bigger scores sometimes and that the bowlers might have given away too many extras on occasion. But he was being pernickety, recognising that sustained excellence means attention to detail in all areas.

The return to form of Kevin Pietersen (at the same time as Collingwood has mislaid his) has been instrumental. His last three scores have been 73no, 53 and 42no. In between he went home to be with his wife, Jessica, when she gave birth to their first child, Dylan. He has hardly stopped smiling since he got back and nor has he stopped hitting the ball very hard indeed to remote areas. He has been an unbridled pleasure to watch.

There might have been some concern about his temporary departure, that it might have disturbed the team's equanimity. As it was the whole issue seems to have been handled seamlessly. Pietersen missed only one game - against New Zealand in the final SuperEight match which by then had been rendered of negligible significance.

"I think we were quite lucky with the way it fell but I suppose we got two good results in the first two Super Eights games so we made our own luck," said Flower. "I was only concerned with a bit of jet-lag. But as you know he's a good professional athlete. He slept on the flight over – he took a sleeping pill on the flight over – and he was fine.

"He is in really good form. He worked really hard on his game in Bangladesh. Even for great athletes like him, hard work stands you in good stead. I think that can only be a positive experience; anything that our guys find to keep life in perspective in this job, to keep sport in perspective, is a good thing."

Pietersen, of course, missed much of the Ashes triumph last summer with an Achilles tendon injury which took time to heal. When he returned his touch seemed to have deserted him and he, as well as everybody else, began to wonder if he would ever again be the player he was.

That fear seems to have been answered in a blaze of strokeplay in these past few days. Flower, too, assessed that a good summer lay ahead for him and did not demur a jot when it was put to him that Pietersen's form was as imperious as it had ever been.

In only one area has England's cricket looked less than pristine. Their grumpiness on the field when the odd fielding lapse has occurred has not always betokened a fully unified team. Stuart Broad and Ryan Sidebottom, both charming men off the field, have been the growlers in chief.

"There is a fine line between demanding high standards of your fielders which is a healthy place to be for a side and then stepping over that line into a petulant world, and a world that damages the team in any way," said Flower. "We are constantly on at our guys to stay the right side of that line." Attention to detail again.

If they can conjure their fifth successive win tomorrow and end up as champions, the game at home would receive an immense boost. What improbable heroes would be made.

It could also hammer another nail into the coffin of Test cricket. Barely will England have arrived home on Tuesday than they must start preparing for a Test series against Bangladesh nine days later. It is a Test series in name only: crowds will be small as will the standardof the opposition on English pitches at this time of year. Twenty20 will seem like the king of all it surveys.

Serial final losers

England have previously reached four finals - and lost on each occasion.

1979 World Cup final

Lost by 92 runs to West Indies (Lords)

*England struggled to contain the Windies, Viv Richards hitting a ton. Set 287 to win, they never looked like reaching it, slumping to 194 all out and losing eight wickets for 11 runs.

1987 World Cup final

Lost by seven runs to Aust (Calcutta)

*David Boon's 75 helped Australia reach 253 before England set about the run chase with panache. However, their scoring rate slowed and Mike Gatting's side finished seven runs adrift.

1992 World Cup final

Lost by 22 runs to Pakistan (M'brne)

*England restricted Pakistan to 249, with Derek Pringle taking three wickets. Ian Botham then fell without scoring, and, despite Neil Fairbrother's 62, England were bowled out for 227.

2004 Champions Trophy final

Lost by two wkts to W Indies (Oval)

*Marcus Trescothick was the only batsman to put up any resistance as England posted a poor 217. Despite having the Windies struggling at 114-6, the visitors got home with an over to spare.