LANCASHIRE cricket manager Mike Watkinson admitted he was surprised to see England lose the Second Test match after such a strong start.

Egerton-based Watkinson, who has been putting his county squad through their first couple of days of pre-season training, admitted he was shocked by the way Ricky Ponting's side had seized control of the game.

"I was surprised to see that England were beaten when I switched on the television," he said, "especially after they had been on top for the first couple of days. But sometimes these things happen in sport."

Watkinson, however, admits that he is pleased to see Jimmy Anderson back in bowling action after the Burnley-born seamer missed the entire summer with a back injury.

"It's obviously good to see Jimmy back," he said. "But, the bowlers in general are still looking for some consistency.

"They have been off radar and it makes life a lot more difficult for Freddie Flintoff as captain if the bowlers are not performing and good batsman are getting themselves in. It's very hard to get 20 wickets against Australia."

Flintoff's captaincy has come under the spotlight from various sections of the media, but Watkinson thinks it would be harsh to criticise the all-rounder.

"Freddie has got a difficult job to do, and its hard to judge him when the bowlers are not being consistent," said Watkinson.

Another Lancashire star - Sajid Mahmood - is waiting in the wings should the England selectors decide to make changes, and Watkinson said: "Sajid is there to be called upon, and I just hope he can grab his chance with both hands if it comes his way."

Turning his attentions back to closer to home, Watkinson is hoping that an early start will help his team make a flying start to the season come April.

"We have been running up Rivington this last couple of days, and it is a long, hard slog," he said. "But, we want a good base of fitness. Cricket is a physically demanding game these days and it helps to get in training early.

"So far, we have are lucky in the fact that we haven't many injury problems yet. We have nothing in place for a pre-season tour, but we have a couple of irons in the fire and we will be looking at something like that in the next couple of months."