Pietersen's return gives Flower a boost

LONDON: Kevin Pietersen batted for the first time since high summer in the nets at Lord's today and for Andy Flower it was clearly a case of absence making the heart grow fonder. "Kevin brings us a superb record, flair, confidence and the ability to counterattack," the England coach said enthusiastically.

Flower viewed Pietersen's negligible part in a successful Ashes summer as something of a bonus. "The fact that we won the Ashes with a limited contributions from the two big stars, if you like, [Pietersen and Andrew Flintoff] is a good thing for our unit and a good thing for the country's cricket. Then, when they come back, it adds strength and power to our unit."

The England party will fly to South Africa today without Pietersen but he is expected to join them on Monday week. "He still has some rehab work to do to get up to speed. Hopefully he will play in a warm-up game and be ready to go at the start of the one-day series [on 20 November]."He's been pushing himself running and now he's champing at the bit to get going," Flower said.

Pietersen arrived in a white, non-descript vehicle which was in keeping with his reduced circumstances since achilles tendon surgery interrupted his brilliant career and caused him to miss the last three Tests of the Ashes campaign.

It has, in fact, been an unhappy year for the player since he lost the England captaincy in the most fractious of circumstances 10 months ago.

Flower added: "He's important to us; he's a world-class player. And he's a special player, I think, with a special confidence. So him being out there is a huge boon for us."

Flower was not in South Africa when England last toured there five years ago. "But I hear that he got a hard time. I think, now, he will have the respect of the South African public. They love sport. I think they've seen how he's performed on the international stage and he has their respect."

However, Flower was less certain of the welcome awaiting the side's other South African, Jonathan Trott, because of that player's relative inexperience at international level. "But they will have seen his performance at The Oval against Australia. I'm sure he will get a hostile reception but he's really looking forward to the tour."

Trott was this week was accused by the former England captain Michael Vaughan of celebrating with South Africa following their Test win at Edgbaston last year. Flower said: "I've see some of Michael Vaughan's comments about Trott and I can tell you from watching him operate in the preparation to the Oval Test, and then watching him operate during the Test, and any conversations I've had with him since, he's 100% committed to this team. So I'm quite happy with the situation.

"I saw him at Loughborough on Wednesday and he knew that this stuff was coming out and he was pretty comfortable about it. He said he had a very clear conscience about it, that he was caught up in the wrong place at the wrong time. I believe him and I agree with him. We're quite happy to have him in the side.

"These guys are very much part of the team and very much part of English cricket. He's only played one game and he did brilliantly under a lot of pressure. He's got his whole career ahead of him and I've got high hopes for him.

"Historically England teams have had players like Allan Lamb, Tony Greig and Graeme Hick involved. So I don't see this being any different from that."

Flower conceded that England would not achieve their aim of being the best team in the world even if they won every Test between now and some time in 2011. "But beating a confident South Africa side, in their own back yard, a side that is now No1 in the world, is a serious challenge for us."

The bowling, he conceded, would have less mph without the retired Flintoff and the discarded Steve Harmison. But Flower added: "We've still got the attack to take 20 wickets and win the series."