Ashes 2013-14: Andy Flower insists England have not lost hunger, despite going 2-0 down in series
Coach says defeats have just been down to poor batting and dropped catches as Rankin and Bresnan set to play in Perth
For England to retain the Ashes, a significant break with tradition will be needed. Tieless MCC members have stormed the Lord’s pavilion more often than teams have come back from 2-0 down in an Ashes series.
It has occurred once before (the pavilion invasions are unrecorded) and then it was Australia who overcame the deficit. In 1936-37, the side led in every sense by Don Bradman, who was captain for his first series and scored centuries in three consecutive Tests of which two were large doubles, won 3-2 following defeats in Brisbane and Sydney.
The most common outcome after a team have gone 2-0 ahead is a 4-1 victory and the uncomfortable feeling at present is that England will do jolly well to manage the one. Little about their play in either of the Test matches so far, in Brisbane or Adelaide, has suggested that they are capable of immediate transformation in Perth, where the third Test starts on Friday.
The team are likely to be changed again, though in the likely event that calls to bring them all home are unheeded, they will be few. At least one of the spinners will be dropped – and both could be. Perversely, as ever, the batsmen who by and large are responsible for putting England into this mess will probably be untouched.
It is always the poor bloody bowler who gets it in the neck. Tim Bresnan is almost certain to play and one of the tall bowlers, of whom such fuss was initially made, may be summoned. Andy Flower, the team’s coach, today virtually discounted Steve Finn, who has been sadly awry lately. That leaves Chris Tremlett and Boyd Rankin.
Tremlett’s pace was underwhelming when he played in the first Test and the time may have come for the son of an Irish farming family to play his first Test match.
The state of the series – the magnitude of the losses rather than the results themselves – has put both Flower and the captain, Alastair Cook, under huge scrutiny. Nothing dramatic will happen yet but both men are intelligent and astute enough to know that England simply must improve.
Flower, a serious man who takes things seriously, agreed he would examine his contribution. “Yes certainly, definitely,” he said. “I think the first port of call for all of us is to look at what we personally can do better. So I examine myself and how I lead absolutely, I am very much responsible for the results of the England cricket side.
“Might I say that the time for reflection is not now. We go to Perth and both sides start on nought for nought, and my job is to ensure that the players are as well prepared as possible for that challenge in Perth. This is not a time for looking backwards.
“Of course you’ve got to learn lessons from the games that you’ve just played, because you don’t want to make the same mistakes again. A reflection on my personal cricketing philosophy – this is not the time for it.”
On an Australian radio station this reporter was asked if Flower’s disciplined, iron-fist regime was responsible. That iron-fist regime (and it is not that) had taken England, the listeners were reminded, to three Ashes wins, top of the world rankings and a world Twenty20 championship.
Unfortunately, the truth is that they batted lamely, crassly and anxiously in their first three innings of the series and although the fourth exhibited progress it was merely the class dunce handing in his homework on time. To compound their batting felonies, men falling for obvious leg-side traps like mug punters being conned by a street hustler with a deck of cards, they have missed opportunities elsewhere.
In Brisbane, Australia were allowed to recover from 132 for 6 on the first day and although some splendidly stubborn batting was involved, this England side had until recently made a habit of kicking down the door when such opportunities presented themselves. In Adelaide they dropped three catches on the first day which cost 286 runs. Had those changes been taken, Australia would have been perilously placed.
They have coped poorly with Mitchell Johnson and in the mood he is in at present they would not be alone. But it is as if their thought processes have been addled by his presence.
The team management are searching rapidly for solutions and dare not yet think the unthinkable, that the side are simply past their use-by date and no longer have the desire of yore.
Flower said: “Firstly I’d say we have got some experienced players but we’ve also got some young players so there is a blend of those two things. I think that one of the tendencies when you lose, or you observe two teams operating and one team dominates the other, the first place people go to as a reason is ‘oh that side’s really hungry to win and this side’s not, this side’s not trying hard’.
“That’s the easy answer and it’s the easy answer for coaches to point fingers at players, saying ‘you need to try harder’. We haven’t been skilful enough with the bat. We dropped chances or we missed chances in the first innings at Adelaide that would have put us in a reasonable position, and I think it’s those skills that have put us in this position in this Test series. It’s not from a lack of hunger or desperation to win for England.”
That takes care of the desire. Considering that this bunch of players, or indeed all England players of the last 15 years, are forever rattling on about their pride in wearing the three lions, that should be the case. The three lions as an emblem of patriotic pride is taking on the hue that the baggy green cap of Australia has over a similar period. Trawl Bradman’s literary works and the baggy green rates not a single mention.
If not hunger, are England simply not up to it any longer? “I would like to think not,” said Flower, which was hardly an unequivocal denial. “These guys are very fine players and I’m very proud of the way they’ve performed over the years, and they can be very proud of themselves.
“However, that means very little in the context of a series that we’re in the middle of right now, and in the context of the challenge that is staring us straight in the face right now. But they can use some of that experience of being in tough situations before, as can the coaches, and we need to regroup very quickly.”
It would be a relief, though less theatrical, if everybody calmed down a bit out in the middle. Gladiators behaved with more decorum than this lot. Abuse is hurled, hard stares are compulsory, tension is high, accidental-or-not shoving has reared its head.
“It’s certainly been cranked up from the summer,” Flower said. “Playing in these conditions and with the extra bounce etc, everything can feel more intense without a doubt. I think we always knew this was going to be a serious battle. But we haven’t adapted well enough with the bat.” At this rate they will be laying siege to the Lord’s pavilion.
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