Andy Flower expressed his confidence that Kevin Pietersen's knee problem will not prevent him "playing a full part" in the forthcoming Ashes summer after England had ended their winter by hanging on for a nail-biting draw without him.
Pietersen flew home before the start of the third Test against New Zealand in Auckland, in which Matt Prior's seventh Test century steered England to safety, for further investigation into the cause of the pain in his right knee that he first felt in Queenstown last month. "Kevin has had a further scan, which confirms a bone injury and bone bruising, and he is being put in a brace for two weeks," Flower said as the dust settled on England's great escape. "He will be off exercise, or any impact exercise, after that for another couple of weeks. Then he'll start his rehab."
Pietersen has already been forced to withdraw from his Indian Premier League commitments with the Delhi Daredevils but Flower suggested he will be fit for the return two-Test series against New Zealand at Lord's and Headingley before England host the ICC Champions Trophy in June and then defend the Ashes from July. They remain second in the ICC's official Test rankings behind South Africa, a position they would have lost to India had they been beaten by New Zealand, as seemed likely when they started the final day of the series with only six second-innings wickets remaining.
But England defied the odds, only the fourth time that a team has been able to survive a full final day having started it with four wickets down. It could not have been a closer contest, with the last pair of Matt Prior and Monty Panesar batting out the final three overs, the fourth time in as many years that England have saved Test matches when within one wicket of defeat. They finished on 315 for nine.
England's hero was the wicketkeeper-batsman Prior, unbeaten on 110, having deflected the ball on to his stumps without dislodging the bails when 28. But Ian Bell batted for almost six hours for 75 before he was dismissed in the last over before tea and Stuart Broad survived almost two and a half hours, scoring six runs, during which it took him 62 deliveries in the course of 103 minutes to score his first run and none at all off his first 61 balls.
The final scenes allowed Panesar a reprise of his famous defiance in the first Ashes Test in Cardiff in 2009 but it was not something the England captain Alastair Cook felt able to watch. When Broad and James Anderson were both out in the space of three balls with fewer than four overs remaining, Cook took himself off into a corner and instead had a commentary relayed to him. "I was pretty good for the majority of it," Cook said. "I watched 95% of it – the last 18 balls I didn't watch but I was having a running commentary. I sat in one place the whole day. Then we lost Broady and I thought that position had run out of luck, so I thought I'd move."
Cook paid special tribute to Prior, who is now one century short of the eight made by Les Ames, England's most successful wicketkeeper-batsman. "His knock was just outstanding," said Cook. "Working together with Broad and Bell ... it was a great effort by the senior players, standing up and delivering. We've proven to be quite a tough side to beat, which we're going to need over the coming months. Ideally obviously, you don't want to be in that situation. But when you find yourself behind the eight-ball, the character we've shown today and at other times in this series — and in India as well — can only be a good thing."Despite all the euphoria though it has been a disappointing end to a tour in which England won series in both limited overs formats and had been expected to add the three-Test rubber to it. "Certainly, we came here to win it," Cook said. " So we're disappointed we haven't done that. We haven't played as well as we needed to win a Test series. That's the bottom line. We fought hard but haven't played as well as you need to beat anyone in international cricket. We've got to find out the reasons why that is and get back on that horse and get our standards higher."
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