Flower turns fire on England middle order

LEEDS: England coach Andy Flower insisted the Ashes performance of the team's middle order was "simply not good enough " after Australia levelled the series with an innings and 80 run victory.

Australia's fourth Test win, achieved with more than two days to spare here at Headingley on Sunday, came after England were bowled out for just 102 in their first innings and left the series all square at 1-1 ahead of next week's finale at the Oval.

Significantly, Ravi Bopara, Ian Bell and Paul Collingwood managed just 16 runs between them during the whole match - the worst collective return in any of England's 890 Tests by their number three, four and five batsmen.

But this was just the latest collapse in a series where, since their second Test win at Lord's, England have been without star batsman Kevin Pietersen because of the South Africa born shotmaker's Achilles problem.

The difference at Headingley was that, with England opting not to play key all-rounder Andrew Flintoff because of a knee injury, the batsmen below their under-performing trio could not bail the hosts out of trouble.

Although England are confident Flintoff, the man at the centre of their 2005 Ashes series win, will be fit for what is now set to be his final Test before their injury-prone talisman retires from five-day cricket, the future of the middle-order remains uncertain.

"It is disappointing," said Flower. "The output from our middle-order, in terms of runs, is simply not good enough.

"We have scored one Test century in four Tests (captain and left-handed opener Andrew Strauss made 161 at Lord's) and the opposition has scored seven.

"That is as clear an indication of what is happening on the batting front as we need," Flower, who in his playing days achieved the notable feat of being ranked as the world's number one Test batsman while representing Zimbabwe.

Such was the scale of England's slump at Headingley, that former captain Alec Stewart has suggested in-form batsman Mark Ramprakash, who plays at the Oval for Surrey, be recalled for a match the hosts must win to regain the Ashes even though it is seven years since the 39-year-old's last Test.

However, Flower insisted that neither he nor the England selectors would be harried into dropping players.

"It is too early to say whether we make changes because it is 10 days until the match starts, we have a selection meeting later in the week," he said.

"In between now and that selection meeting we will have a proper think about it and a few discussions.

"We don't respond to calls for change, we make our own decisions and if we did anything but that I don't think we should be in these positions.

"We have to let the dust settle, it's the only sensible thing to do."

He added: "We can come back from this. We have to come back from it. That is the only option available to us. We are not 4-0 down, it is 1-1, and we intend to go to the Oval and play good cricket."

What particularly irked Flower was that England's first innings collapse against the swinging ball at Headingley, which effectively cost them the game, was similar to the way in which their top order crumbled against South Africa last year at Yorkshire's headquarters.

In that match - with Strauss, opener Alastair Cook and Bell the only batting survivors at Headingley last week - England were bowled out for 203 on the first day before losing by 10 wickets.

"Probably the most disappointing thing about that first innings for me was the fact that 12 months ago we played South Africa at this ground and there was a carbon copy innings," said Flower.

"Twelve months on we would want to see some learning taking place.

"We didn't look at videos but we talked about the game last year and the dangers of playing a certain way at Headingley, so that is the disappointing thing," he added.