Sri Lanka tour preview: Pietersen gears up for long hard slog

England's customary premature exit from a major competition will still not give them a great deal of time to regroup
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The Independent Online

As England departed early yet again from an international tournament their best player offered his thoughts on the damage it can do to the psyche. It did not make for cosy listening.

"Losing is hard," said Kevin Pietersen, England's leading scorer in the World Twenty20. "It's not nice sitting at breakfast with the players from the teams that beat you around you allthe time. I think they probably look down on us and I hate it. It's horrendous." England went out meekly at the Super Eight stage, unable to capitalise on the winning chances they created against both South Africa and New Zealand. About to embark on a one-day series in Sri Lanka, Pietersen suggested they might use their experiences squirming over scrambled eggs to inspire them to improve. "I hope the guys use it as motivation," he said. "We've got to use little things to pump ourselves up."

Disappointing though Eng-land unquestionably were, miti-gating factors exist. The crowdedcalendar meant they had only two days in South Africa before the first game. This rather undermined their possession of the so-called Twenty20 specialists, players chosen for their domestic success, though the experiment should never be repeated.

"Twenty20 is great for the game, but it was chucked into the only two-week window we had," said Pietersen. "But I'm certainly not getting too perturbed, because you turn up to the ground knowing anybody can win a match."

Pietersen's argument about lack of preparation is slightly weakened since India, also dashing from London after the limited-overs series between the countries, were in exactly the same position and reached the last stages. But the general point holds up. England have had precious few breaks for almost two years. They returned home from India in April 2006, started the domestic international season a month later, were in India for the Champions Trophy in October, went immediately to Australia for the Ashes and a one-day series and flew home for a week before going to the West Indies for the World Cup.

They returned for another domestic season, then flew to South Africa. Personnel have changed and only Paul Collingwood was involved every step of the way, but plenty of others have hardly had time to recharge. Poor lambs, you might say, but Pietersen put it in perspective.

"I absolutely love cricket and we're only going to be around a certain time," he said. "I love playing it, I love practising, I love working on my batting. What I'm not a fan of is the travelling. It becomes so monotonous. The day you turn up for a game is amazing, millions of people round the world watching you perform, and I love that part.

"But it's just the travel, having to set your alarm and move and go, move and go and not being at home. It's horrible. You can't keep on playing as much as we are all day, every day and not get stale. The travelling kills it."

Wise words, but the suspicion remains that the authorities will hear but not listen. England will have a month off after the Sri Lanka one-dayers before returning there for the Tests. They will then have about five weeks' rest before going to New Zealand. Australia came to the World Twenty20 after a break of five months. Their last game before this tournament was the World Cup Final. They are refreshed.

It is impossible to be confident about England's chances in the next three weeks. Their only one-day victory in Sri Lanka against Sri Lanka was in the first match, 25 years ago. The hosts have won the three subsequent series by crushing margins. They are likely to be without Muttiah Muralitharan but are no longer a one-man bowling attack. Nor are England, but they may miss Andrew Flintoff more than the opposition will miss Murali.

Flintoff, a great one-day bowler, flew home on Thursday after experiencing further trouble with his left ankle. His Test career must now be in doubt. David Graveney, the chairman of selectors, said: "There's one thing bowling four overs in Twenty20, there's another bowling 10 overs in a one-dayer, but there's also another thing bowling in a Test match. I might be perceived as the ultimate optimist but I don't think we've reached the point yet where we start planning the future Test team without Freddie.

"On previous tours we've taken people who aren't fully fit and that's proven not to be the correct way." So at least one lesson seems to have been learned.