Flower mulling England changes for fourth test

NEIL FRANKLAND
Last updated 02:23 19/12/2013
Matt Prior
Getty Images
SCRUTINISED: England wicketkeeper Matt Prior's spot in the England team is under threat after a poor run with the bat.

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England coach Andy Flower is considering key changes for the fourth test against Australia in Melbourne, with underperforming wicketkeeper Matt Prior among those under scrutiny.

And Flower's own future remains in question after he refused to be drawn on his plans beyond the current series when asked by reporters yesterday.

"We have two tests and I am hungry to do well in those," said the Zimbabwean, who led England to three successive Ashes series wins. "That's as far as I am looking at the moment."

Australia reclaimed the Ashes in emphatic fashion with a third straight test victory on home soil, and can leapfrog England into third place behind South Africa and India in the test rankings if it completes a 5-0 series sweep.

Flower said he'd contemplate replacing Prior with 24-year-old Jonny Bairstow, who has averaged 30.2 from 12 tests.

Australia is currently ranked No 5 behind Pakistan.

"Matt Prior has been an outstanding cricketer for England during a second phase of his English career," Flower said in Perth. "But like all those positions we have to review them."

Graeme Swann is also under pressure after taking just seven wickets in three tests, but is thought likely to hold off fellow-spinner Monty Panesar for a spot in the fourth match starting December 26.

"We constantly review what our best side will be and we also have to have an eye to the future as well," Flower said. "So we'll meet over the next couple of days and start getting some clarity on those decisions."

Cricket Australia chief executive James Sutherland, meanwhile, is delighted with the impact new coach Darren Lehmann has had on the team in the few months since replacing Mickey Arthur.

"Looking back on it now, it looks like a pretty good decision doesn't it?" Sutherland said of the decision to fire Arthur.

Australian allrounder Shane Watson also attributed much of the team's success to Lehman.

"He's brought the fun back to us playing cricket for Australia," Watson said. "It certainly got quite regimented there for quite a while, and that's not getting the best out of anyone.

"So Darren immediately made sure that we were enjoying ourselves on and off the field, and also taught us to learn from our mistakes."

Australia has retained the same winning squad from the first three tests to take the field in front of an expected first-day crowd of more than 90,000 at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.

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Three members of that squad will gain some extra practice heading into the Melbourne test after Cricket Australia released opener David Warner, third-test man-of-the-match Steven Smith and George Bailey to play in this week's opening round of the domestic Twenty20 Big Bash League.

CA said the early securing of the Ashes allowed the batsmen to return to the domestic game.

"The bowlers from the first three tests were not considered for release given their recent workload and the need to prepare for the Melbourne and Sydney tests," CA high performance manager Pat Howard said.

- AP

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