No-show at nets for England

Blackpool Citizen: Scott Borthwick has yet to win a Test cap for England Scott Borthwick has yet to win a Test cap for England

England decided to skip their scheduled New Year's Day net practice - just two days after coach Andy Flower hinted he wanted "more intensity".

Flower had taken issue with a suggestion his regime might be too intense - hinting instead that he perhaps needs to consider a more regimented style.

Yet with just two days to go before England try to salvage some pride by avoiding an Ashes whitewash in the final Test in Sydney, the mixed messages kept coming. And Cricket Australia was quick to flag up the "surprising decision" which it described as been taken "in the midst of an Ashes annihilation".

It is a moot point whether England's actions, or inaction in this case at the SCG, speak louder than Flower's words.

In the aftermath of a fourth successive Test defeat in Melbourne, he discussed at length on Monday how his coaching tenure has evolved. However, he made it clear he hopes to carry on, despite England's hugely disappointing campaign here this winter.

Flower said: "If anything, recently, I think I have relaxed a little in certain ways.

"One of the areas we can improve and change, I think I could bring more intensity and a closer control on certain things."

England opted out of their scheduled 8:30am net session but did run extended fielding drills and catching practice on the outfield 90 minutes later - an act not lost on Cricket Australia who decided to make a story of it on its official website.

"In the midst of an Ashes annihilation, England decided a net session was unnecessary two days out from the fifth and final Commonwealth Bank Ashes Test in Sydney," its website read.

"Following their capitulation in Melbourne, the tourists' surprising decision on Wednesday means they'll have just one session on game eve to attempt to paper over the cracks and stop Australia completing only the third 5-0 whitewash in Ashes history."

Both England and Australia fulfilled an official invitation to meet Prime Minister Tony Abbott at his Sydney residence on Wednesday afternoon, with practice therefore arranged beforehand.

The hosts, hoping to inflict a second whitewash in three tours on England, held an optional net session which was well-attended but - between back-to-back Tests - featured little bowling from their frontline seam attack.

It fell, meanwhile, to the uncapped Scott Borthwick to explain England's decision to leave batting and bowling practice for another day.

Asked why nets were shelved, he said: "No reason whatsoever.

"We just had a nice run around, bit of catching ... we'll do our skills tomorrow."

Borthwick was able to fine-tune his leg-spin behind the scenes in Melbourne last week, while Alastair Cook's team were losing again in the middle.

He will be left with just one session here, however, against frontline batsmen to try to press his claims for a debut.

The 23-year-old is pinching himself to be involved in the Ashes in any capacity, having had his packing for a return home from playing Sydney Grade cricket interrupted just before Christmas by a phone call from Flower informing him he was needed instead in Melbourne.

Monty Panesar took the spinner's role there, but there is a strong possibility either off-spinner James Tredwell or Borthwick may replace the slow left-armer after his lacklustre display in the fourth Test and because he is also suffering from a "tight calf".

Borthwick recalled the moment he heard from Flower, and a subsequent conversation he never dreamed he would be having - even after the mid-series retirement of record-breaking off-spinner Graeme Swann.

"It was amazing," he said.

"I was due to fly home last Monday, and then go on the Lions tour to Sri Lanka.

"But I got the call from Andy to fly to Melbourne.

"Obviously I'd seen [Swann] had retired, but I didn't think anything of it.

"I didn't think I'd be here. But I am now.

"It's been an amazing two weeks. I'm thrilled."

England's last spin-bowling debutant, Simon Kerrigan, endured a nightmare Test at The Oval against Australia less than five months ago.

If Borthwick is given a chance here, he must show he is a young man for a big occasion.

Asked if he is, he said: "I hope so.

"I've never played Test cricket before, so don't know that feeling. But being around an Ashes squad really excites me."

Australia's Brad Haddin, who played Grade cricket alongside Borthwick earlier this winter, has already made it clear the home batsmen will be quick to try to dominate him if he is picked.

That, though, is a leg-spinner's lot in a nutshell - whatever the level.

"Leg-spin is hard," said Borthwick.

"You've got to accept you are going to bowl bad balls, and blokes are going to come after you.

"I think as a leg-spinner, you've got to accept that and show a bit of fight, try to get competitive and spin the ball past them.

"When batters do come at you, it gives you a chance to get wickets."

Borthwick may yet end up with a watching brief - because the percentage call to bowl spin at the SCG is probably still the more experienced Tredwell, even though Australia's middle order is now packed with right-handers.

England, however, are known to be considering making changes.

Whether or not that directly affects Borthwick, he is delighted to have joined a squad he insists is still cheery despite their chastening tour so far.

"I think the spirit has been fantastic; the lads are sticking together," he said.

"It's brilliant, and we're trying our best to get a good win in Sydney and finish the tour on a high."

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