Fletcher plays straight bat

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As if the prospect of a 5-0 Ashes whitewash was not bad enough, England were on Friday asked to bring their best game to the final encounter of this series – by their opposition.

Australian coach John Buchanan is sitting on a 4-0 lead as he prepares an unchanged squad heading to Sydney next week for his final Test in charge. The exclusion of Stuart MacGill must herald the end of the 35-year-old leg-spinner’s Test career, with the Australian selectors looking to the next generation to replace the irreplaceable Shane Warne.

The philosophical Buchanan, who has seen his team compile a 2006 record of played 10 won 10, said on Friday: “I’m hoping they [England] really enjoy the new year and come back with a new resolve and are really ready to take us head-on in Sydney.

“There is nothing to lose there for them and I’m sure they don’t want to go down 5-0 and I’m sure we want to go up 5-0. It’s a real challenge ahead for England. There’s something missing there [compared with 2005].

“We wanted to re-establish the gap between us and what is supposedly the second best team in the world,” Buchanan added, with a deliberate emphasis on the word “supposedly”.

His England counterpart Duncan Fletcher, meanwhile, defended the decision to move Kevin Pietersen up the batting order from five to four for the second innings of the fourth Test. He insisted it was not a panic measure prompted by England’s desperate situation. “Kevin came to us and said he was batting with the tail a lot so he wanted to bat at number four,’’ said Fletcher.

‘‘We had a discussion and he said he’d rather move up than be caught with the tail that we’ve got at the moment so we’ve decided Kevin will bat at number four through to the end of the Sydney Test.

‘‘We discussed it with Paul Collingwood and he said he would do what is best for the team.”

Reflecting on the innings and 99-run defeat here, Fletcher said: “I wouldn’t say that’s the worst we’ve played. We haven’t played as well as in previous Tests and series but, from our point of view, we just didn’t make enough runs on that first day.

“It was crucial to put in a better performance. There’s a lot of experience in that camp [Australia]. People keep forgetting that.”

Fletcher admitted mistakes had been made when asked how accountable he was for England’s poor showing on this tour.

“We’ve made some selection errors with the team,” he said. “We’ve made mistakes, we admit we’ve made some mistakes and we will reflect on it when we get back on the end of the tour, like we do on any series.

He also denied that the team had not tried their hardest. “If they [the England players] weren’t trying, then I’d say they’ve let you down. They’re disappointed. They genuinely feel they’ve let a lot of people down and that’s why it is so difficult to accept defeat.”

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