By renewing Andy Flower's contract as coach yesterday, England were merely pledging their troth. Flower, the architect not only of two Ashes triumphs but also of a new ethos in the team, was already permanently engaged as a member of the ECB's staff.
The new deal is a sporting version of a long married couple reaffirming their marriage vows. It signals the mutual devotion of both parties and serves as a reminder to other potential suitors – India and South Africa were both mentioned recently – that they can keep their greedy little hands off.
Hugh Morris, the managing director of England Cricket and an unequivocal admirer of Flower, said: "Andy's outstanding leadership, commitment, and his open and honest approach have been key factors in the success the England squad has enjoyed over the last two years and I have no doubt that under his direction we will continue to see England improve as we strive to become the No 1 side in the world in all formats of the game."
It will not be quite business as usual. Flower has doubtless been given a rise in his present salary, believed to be around £250,000 a year. There is also likely to be a clause giving him the opportunity not to do every day of every tour, perhaps missing the less significant encounters such as Bangladesh, or the one-day elements of others.
Although England have a comparatively light schedule in the early part of next winter (it becomes much heavier later), the new Future Tours Programme, shortly to be ratified by the International Cricket Council, will probably have a description of relentless attached to it. England can certainly be expected to continue their recent workload of two series at home each summer and two away in most winters. Given the rigour of Flower's preparation and planning and the long periods on the road, his effectiveness would doubtless be dulled eventually.
England have acted shrewdly in so clearly expressing their faith in a coach who along with the captain, Andrew Strauss, has transformed the manner of the England team. But suggestions that Flower would have jumped ship for either India or South Africa were wide of the mark.
Flower has settled happily in England since finishing his international playing days with Zimbabwe, his wife is English, and although the life of an international sporting coach is nomadic, he has no desire to uproot his family or spend longer away from them. Occasionally, Flower has spoken of the debt he owes England who provided him with work and a home on his departure from Zimbabwe after the 2003 World Cup when he and Henry Olonga launched their black armband protest against the Robert Mugabe regime. He means it.
"I am delighted to have been given the opportunity to build on the considerable progress we have made to date as a squad and remain fully committed to developing the side and ensuring we are in a position to realise our objective of becoming the No 1 side in the world," Flower said yesterday.
"When I was appointed in 2009 I stated that I wanted to create a winning England team and I am very pleased with the advances we have made as a squad over the last two years in all formats of the game. Regaining the Ashes in 2009 and retaining them last winter, and the 2010 World Twenty20 title are highlights, but there is still plenty more we want to achieve in the longer term."
In lauding Flower's undoubted achievements in the two years since he was handed the permanent position, it is too easy to assume that England have swept all before them. This is not quite so. True, they have twice won the Ashes, last winter in imperishable style, and last year England won their first significant limited-overs trophy by becoming Twenty20 world champions.
But they remain third in the ICC Test rankings, having moved from sixth when Flower took over, and are fifth in the one-day rankings, up from sixth. Their recent World Cup campaign, following their Ashes triumph, was a rollercoaster ride which ended at the bottom of the dip and was clearly a tournament too far.
Flower's first assignments under his revised deal are with Sri Lanka, who arrive in the country next week in some disarray and India, who have a surprising new coach in Duncan Fletcher, Flower's predecessor but one with England. England can be expected to win the Test series against Sri Lanka, which begins on 26 May, although they may be more stretched in the one-day matches.
Sri Lanka have an interim coach in Stuart Law, have five players arriving late – including their two most prestigious, the former captains Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara – because of commitments in the Indian Premier League and are reeling from accusations of match-fixing alleged to go back to 1992 by another former captain, Hashan Tillakaratne.
India will provide riveting opposition, partly because they are the No 1 Test-ranked side in the world and are one-day world champions, partly because of the enduringly illustrious presence of Sachin Tendulkar and partly because of Fletcher. It would be wrong to say that Fletcher left England under a cloud since it was under his aegis that they restored pride, winning six successive Test series including the epic Ashes of 2005.
But by the time Fletcher departed in 2007, England were in a muddle. They had surrendered the Ashes 5-0 and had a wretched World Cup. Fletcher, being the stubborn and righteous man he is, has never forgiven some of his critics.
There is no reason to believe that his relations with his fellow Zimbabwean, Flower, will be anything other than cordially polite, but it will be an intriguing clash of styles – both determined men but one warm, the other aloof. Fletcher will certainly believe he has something to prove (not least because of India's current status).
But respect for him as a coach does not always stray into admiration and in the 2008 Wisden Cricketers' Almanack, his sad memoir, Behind the Shades, was described as "vindictive, self-justifying and relentlessly mean-spirited". He will not have forgotten that. Were his side to prevail, the love affair between England and Flower might sour just a little.Reuse content