Andy Flower remains relaxed, at least in public, about his Ashes rival Darren Lehman's suggestion that the tourists have chivvied open "a couple of cracks" in the England batting line-up that they can exploit in their attempts to square the series.
However, while throwing a protective blanket around Alastair Cook and Jonathan Trott, the two well-established pillars of England's top order who have so far been unusually wobbly, Flower conceded that even after what turned out to be a match-saving, and therefore Ashes-retaining, century at Old Trafford, the team's self-styled "Old Man", Kevin Pietersen, may now need to be wrapped in cotton wool.
"He'll have to look after himself now," Flower said of Pietersen, who has revealed that not only did he almost miss the third Test with a calf strain, but that he could easily have been ruled out of the whole series by a knee operation.
"He's in his early 30s now [at 33, Pietersen is junior only to Graeme Swann in the England team] and from experience and talking to guys who have played at that age everything seems to hurt a little bit more after long days in the field and after big innings.
"Unfortunately he's had a couple of injuries but he's been very dedicated in the way he's responded to getting those right and it's great to see him bat like he did not only here but when he got a really important 60 in the context of that game [the first Test] at Trent Bridge. He's a very entertaining guy to watch and a brilliant international batsman. It's great that he's fit and firing."
England's captain, Cook, went a little further in his praise for Pietersen in his post-match press conference, with comments that might spark a mid-series debate. "He's a mighty fine player, a great player – I think you can put him in that category now – and great players stand up when you really need them," he said. Any mild concerns over Pietersen's decreasing mobility in the field – both Swann and Stuart Broad were visibly frustrated by a couple of his efforts in Australia's second innings at Old Trafford – are clearly trivial when he plays innings like that.
The absence of James Taylor from England's 13-man squad for the fourth Test that starts in Durham on Friday suggests Pietersen's calf is no longer causing concern, and must also be a relief to Jonny Bairstow, who has failed to nail down the No6 position with 161 runs at an average of 32.2 so far in the series. He is enjoying the sort of lengthy run that was given to Eoin Morgan and before him Ravi Bopara – although the experience of both those players shows that the patience of the selectors and management has its limits.
Bairstow was presumably one of the players to whom Lehmann was referring when he said: "We've shown a couple of cracks in their batting, which is exciting for us as a bowling unit."
But the Yorkshireman is above both his captain and Trott in the averages. Cook has 145 runs at 24.16, and Trott 122 at 20.33 having been dismissed for two ducks in his last three innings. The contrast could hardly be greater with the last Ashes series in Australia, when they shared more than 1,200 runs at an average of more than 100, and had scored 772 between them after three Tests despite having only five innings each.
As a result, England have lost their first three wickets for 30 runs or fewer in three of their last four innings, and were not much better off when slipping to 64 for three in the first innings at Old Trafford, admittedly after Tim Bresnan had come in as nightwatchman.
"Look, there are good new-ball bowlers on both sides and there are going to be wickets falling early," Flower responded. "Of course we'd like to be none down in that early period of play. But we've recovered well and I think good sides do that."
Asked specifically about Cook and Trott, : "Perhaps not huge contributions from them, ones that we're used to, but they've still made contributions to our success so far in this series and we still expect great things from them."
Trott did make handy contributions in the first innings at Trent Bridge (48) and the second at Lord's (58), and looked so well-set on each occasion that it was a major surprise when he was out, and England would have been in much more trouble without Cook's 62 in the first innings at Old Trafford, and especially his painstaking 50 in more than four hours, in which he shared a priceless partnership of 110 with Pietersen, at Trent Bridge.
"Generally not everyone can succeed at the same time, cricket doesn't work quite as easily as that," added Flower. "In successful sides batsmen will dovetail a little, hopefully."
He stressed that the inclusion of Graham Onions in the England squad for his home Test had always been planned, and was not in response to the Durham bowler's impressive performance against Middlesex at Lord's last week. Lehmann confirmed that Australia will consider the claims of Jackson Bird to join their seam attack, depending on the condition of the notoriously fragile Ryan Harris, and refused to be drawn on the possibility of David Warner moving up to open with Chris Rogers as he did in the second innings in Manchester, with Shane Watson staying in the middle order.
Inevitably, both Flower and Lehmann were asked whether the latest range of controversies provoked by the decision review system at Old Trafford had dented their faith in the technology, or in those applying it.
"I thought I'd get through without being asked," Lehmann joked – the question was inevitable as he and Cricket Australia await an explanation from the International Cricket Council of Usman Khawaja's first-innings dismissal. "I like the technology but we have to make sure we get the best we possibly can."
"I thought that DRS had worked pretty well in international cricket prior to this series but in this series it hasn't worked well at all," Flower said. "I wouldn't necessarily blame technology – what we have at the moment is the best we've got. I might question whether we're using it as wisely as we can. I think we, the cricket community, can use it better.
"There is technology there to use and there are protocols that go with it. I think the people in charge of using the technology have to make very calm, clear decisions. I think we also know and understand that going back to using just the two umpires in the middle is not the answer because that isn't going to get us a greater percentage of correct decisions. Just being smart about how we use the technology – where the third umpire sits, who he sits with, is he sitting with experts in technology so that he sees the best pictures and can run forwards and backwards the various screens and the pertinent screens – those are the things that the ICC need to get right."
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