Desperation sets in for winless England

Coach Andy Flower offers candid assessment of team's failures in West Indies
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The Independent Online

There was no point in pretending and Andy Flower knew it. "We're desperate for a win," he said. "Definitely." That desperation will shortly begin to take on desperate proportions.

The gaunt look on the England players' faces yesterday was not caused solely by having to get out of bed at 4am for an early flight. They were the pale, drawn countenances of men who had lost something crucial to their existence. In their case it was simple: they had mislaid the ability to win and did not look as though they had a clue where to find it. England have now played 14 matches of differing hues this winter. And from the Stanford $20m match at the start of November to the Twenty20 international against the West Indies on Sunday they have failed to record a single victory.

As the West Indies arrived here yesterday, Shivnarine Chanderpaul was accorded a local hero's welcome. As the No 1 batsman in the world for most of the past two years travelled from the airport to Georgetown, schoolchildren lined the roadside to greet him. England by contrast, despite playing some solid cricket, largely in the Test series, have nothing to show for it. In the shorter forms of the game they have been found badly lacking and manifold shortcomings were again exposed in their six wicket defeat in Port of Spain.

Before the biggest crowd of the tour, the visitors froze. They had no obvious strategy, they were bemused, bothered and bewildered and they were all out for 121. If you were looking to be upbeat, you could point out it was 22 more than they made in the Stanford match. But it was embarrassingly inept and a period of calm reflection did nothing to diminish the haplessness of it.

"I have got my own ideas," said Flower, the assistant coach in charge of team affairs on this tour. "In Twenty20 I think we're a long way off from having a successful formula and the results have borne that out in the Twenty20 cricket we've played. You're certainly a bit restricted on tour compared to your normal Twenty20 selection options, but in one-day cricket I think we've got a clearer idea."

For a man whose future probably depends on the one-day series, which begins here on Friday, Flower is astonishingly but refreshingly candid. If England cannot win at least two of the five matches, his hopes of being appointed as successor to Peter Moores as team director will probably be terminated. There is an immense amount of goodwill towards him from players. It is, therefore, up to the players. If they want Flower to stay on, they had better start winning for him.

Between now and Friday, they have to come up with some notion of how they might win. But if one should somehow arrive, it will be based more on the turn of the tide, or some outstanding individual effort, than on any game plan. Yesterday, Flower was still unsure what that game plan might be.

Asked whether the plan fitted the players or the players fitted the plan, Flower said: "I think it's a bit of both. You have to have a clear idea of how you want to structure the game and you put your players in a position to do that, but some of it is tailored to particular individuals, like Pietersen for example."

The mention of Kevin Pietersen brought into focus the whole question of Twenty20 shortcomings again. Pietersen is far and away England's most accomplished batsman, but in 15 Twenty20 internationals he has made only one fifty. He needs a little time for the engine to warm up and sometimes time has passed him by.

At present, England have no chance whatsoever of winning the World Twenty20 cup to be held in their own country this June. But of more immediate concern is a win on this tour. They still do not know their best team, they still do not know who will open their batting, they know too little.

"As an international cricketer you're always under a certain amount of pressure," said Flower, himself an outstanding player with Zimbabwe. "As a team you're under pressure to win the game and as an individual you're under pressure to succeed, and selection matters put you under pressure. You cannot hide from that and players have to find their own way of dealing with the pressures of international cricket. If you can you'll have a successful career, but if you can't you won't.

"The good thing about sport is you put yourself on the line all the time and that's the exciting thing. In the one-day game there is no grey area, you either... take the plaudits or take the hits." How England could do with a plaudit.