Shane: England can win without KP
Australia all-rounder Shane Watson believes England are capable of retaining their ICC World Twenty20 title, even without Kevin Pietersen.
Alex Hales' half-century and handy contributions from Luke Wright, Eoin Morgan and Jonny Bairstow powered England to 172 for six in their first warm-up match against the Aussies in Colombo on Monday.
Only the world-class precision batting and hitting of Michael Hussey (71) then managed to make a game of it at the Nondescripts CC, before Australia fell nine runs short.
It all left Watson in no doubt that, although Pietersen's absence is no help to England, they have the right youngsters to compensate.
"As a player, there's no doubt he will be missed - Kevin Pietersen is an amazingly talented batsman," Watson said.
"In the last [Twenty20] World Cup, he was one of the big reasons why England won it.
"But England have a number of very exciting young guys coming in, who can do a really good job as well."
Watson was equivocal about how big a disadvantage it might prove to England to have to get by without their most gifted batsman, still out in the cold after his protracted summer contract wrangles with his employers and the breakdown of his working relationship with coach Andy Flower and former Test captain Andrew Strauss.
"It won't have too much of a dent in the England side, because they'll be able to make up for it pretty well," he said.
"But any time you lose a player of Kevin Pietersen's class it's going to be hard for you."
Among those tasked with replicating the Pietersen effect on the field are his direct replacement at the top of the order, Hales.
The tall opener made a remarkable start, in the very first assignment of his mission improbable when he hit England's highest ever Twenty20 individual score of 99 against West Indies on his home ground at Trent Bridge three months ago.
On Monday, he fared pretty well too - making 52 to underpin England's total as he and Wright shared an important second-wicket stand of 88.
"He hit the ball very nicely, and is obviously going to be a big player for England at the top of the order," Watson said.
Hales himself will not be distracted by his billing as Pietersen's deputy, knowing he cannot afford to allow the matter to cloud his vision.
"I try not to think about that," he said. "I try just to focus on my own game, and do what I've done for Notts and do as well as I can for England."
Hales helped to deliver a morale boost for England's prospects in Sri Lanka, a fifth successive victory this year over Australia coming only after Stuart Broad got the vital wicket of Hussey just when it seemed the master batsman was taking the game away.
The experience was a learning curve as well as a confidence-builder, and Hales added: "We've got some really exciting young players, and some great talent in there.
"We'll work hard thoroughly on each game.
"Pace off the ball is always pretty tough in the sub-continent. But we've got some great strikers in the middle order - and I think we'll do okay."
England looked very vulnerable when Hussey was in full flow, three successive leg-side sixes denting young spinner Danny Briggs' otherwise encouraging figures.
Hales, however, said: "We were always pretty confident.
"We've got great faith in our bowlers, and they set pretty good plans - even throughout the middle stages, when Mike Hussey was smashing it.
"I thought we fought back really well towards the end.
"It's the old rivalry, great to get off to a winning start - especially against the Aussies."
England will be a little wiser, then, as they set sights on a final warm-up match against Pakistan on Wednesday, before their tournament begins in earnest against Afghanistan two days later.
"As a batsman, there's always stuff you need to be working on in the nets," Hales said.
"All the guys will do that as thoroughly as they can as we prepare for this tournament, and we're going to do our best to defend the title.
"In Twenty20, there are a lot of match-winners and game-changers out there.
"Fortunately today, Broady got a great wicket and set the game up beautifully for us."
Watson rued Australia's slightly below-par bowling, but gave deserved credit to Hussey - who so nearly altered the outcome.
"We are very lucky to have Mike Hussey in our team," he said.
"He just assesses situations so beautifully, and then has all the armoury to be able to take down the best bowlers in the world. It's a privilege to be able to watch him bat like he did today."