~~England gaining from Flintoff absence~~

Published: Friday, August 11, 2006, 23:53 [IST]
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Sydney:England's cricket team has gained rather than suffered from the loss of star all-rounder Andrew Flintoff in the countdown to this year's Ashes series, Australian team coach John Buchanan said.

Buchanan has been impressed with the roles of Ian Bell and Monty Panesar in England's current Test series with Pakistan as they build up to the much-anticipated Ashes, starting in Brisbane on November 23.

England coach Duncan Fletcher has hailed Panesar the best finger spinner in the world after the left-armer took three for 39 to spearhead England to a 167-run third Headingley Test victory and take an unbeatable 2-0 lead in the four-match series against Pakistan.

Bell has hit three hundreds in as many Tests against Pakistan after averaging only 17 against Australia in last year's Ashes series.

"I think what we have seen from them is a gradual build-up in terms of the way they're playing, their teamwork, and responsibility being shared around the team, which I think has been a real plus for them," Buchanan told The Sydney Morning Herald Friday.

"It hasn't been a case of turning to 'Freddie' Flintoff all the time to take a wicket or turning to (Steve) Harmison or (Kevin) Pietersen to deliver something.

"They've actually had the ability to share it around -- the likes of (Alastair) Cook, Bell, Panesar and now (wicketkeeper Chris) Read's come in.

"I think they would be very, very pleased with the outcomes of their summer, knowing that they've still got a couple of players, particularly Flintoff, who are convalescing and getting themselves ready for the Ashes."

Buchanan is holding a 'commando-style' camp for Australian squad members in outback Queensland this month, which he hopes will help them shut out the kind of distractions that put them off their game in England last year.

The details of the outback training camp are secret but Buchanan said it was the first chance since he took over as coach in 1999 for all 25 contracted players to come together for a substantial bonding session because of the rare, extended break between overseas tours.

"The underlying philosophy is about taking all of us outside our comfort zone and then seeing how we respond to that, individually and collectively," he said.

"The means to get there is secretive and that's where it remains."

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