England's Learning Curve: Moving Forward Without Pietersen and Flintoff

Ian SimpsonContributor ISeptember 22, 2009

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - JANUARY 04:  Andrew Flintoff (R) and Kevin Pietersen of England await the third umpire's decision on the stumping by Adam Gilchrist of Flintoff off the bowling of Shane Warne during day three of the fifth Ashes Test Match between Australia and England at the Sydney Cricket Ground on January 4, 2007 in Sydney, Australia.  (Photo by Tom Shaw/Getty Images)

Moving forward for the England One-Day International side will be an even greater task with both Kevin Pietersen and Andrew Flintoff out of the ICC Champions Trophy.

With confidence at rock bottom following the near 7-0 whitewash and a schedule of high-profile matches on the cards, England and Andy Flower have a lot to ponder.

With the box office stars absent, England must find a formula and game plan to compete with opposition packed full of Pietersens and Flintoffs.

Having watched the opening match of the ICC Champions Trophy between Sri Lanka and South Africa, it was obvious from the start that England will struggle against such well-drilled and talented opposition.

Sri Lanka's threat was obvious from the start, with Tillakaratne Dilshan firing from ball one, Sangakkara and Jayawardene playing typically mature knocks and Malinga, Mendis and Murali terrorizing South African batsmen. It is clear that the Sri Lankans are a team who will be hard to beat, but, more worryingly, play with a natural confidence that could embarrass a less-than-confident England when the two teams meet on Friday.

Without Pietersen and Flintoff, how can England compete against such a force?

Andy Flower has been quoted saying "I think it's a lack of confidence. I think if you do the simple things very well you will score runs in one-day cricket."

With confidence comes sharper decision-making and an ability to cope with situations. Too often in the ODI Series between England and Australia, England players were seemingly overawed by the situation. This led to a number of soft dismissals.

England had a priceless partnership in Pietersen and Flintoff. Other players could feed off the confidence exerted by both players and take it into their own games. With both men taking the headlines, it also gave the less-experienced players a chance to operate on a lower radar without as much media attention.

Part of the situation England are in has been created by the close attention and scrutiny of players like Ravi Bopara and Owais Shah. In such a negative atmosphere, any sportsman would struggle to perform.

If the likes of Pietersen and Flintoff were about, it would be interesting to see if Bopara and Shah would get such negative attention or if Pietersen and Flintoff's presence would help them thrive.

In Andrew Strauss, England have a player of similar magnitude to Pietersen and Flintoff. But Strauss can't produce the fireworks that enable the Bopara's and Shah's to go about their business with minimal attention.

With a combination of Strauss' calm at the top of the order, Pietersen and Flintoff's presence and a bowling unit lead by James Anderson, England would have a daunting One-Day team that would allow players like Ravi Bopara,Owais Shah, Eoin Morgan and Luke Wright could display their obvious, raw talents.

Will England and Flower be able to create a confident, winning atmosphere without Pietersen and Flintoff? I guess we will see in the next two weeks.