England are a tour de force under Moores the great communicator
The coach who followed Duncan Fletcher into the hottest seat in cricket demonstrated his abilities in the best style possible, writes Stephen Brenkley
Monday 15 October 2007
By way of shrewdly assessing England's chances in their first Sri Lankan sojourn of the autumn one seasoned pundit posed a question. He did so rhetorically, bearing in mind key facts, such as England had not won two successive one-day series for four years, they had just been humiliated in the opening match and they were facing crack opposition in alien conditions to whom they had lost 5-0 at home barely a year previously.
He said: "Can anybody outline any scenario in which England can win a match in this series?" And there came a deafening silence. It was broken only when one of his audience invoked the fantastical possibility of thunderstorms allied to the Duckworth-Lewis method and potential Sri Lankan boredom.
In the event, England needed none of that. They won because they beat Sri Lanka at their own game in their own backyard. Sometimes it made for tedious one-day cricket: tantalise the batsman until he can wriggle no more and the inevitable end comes almost with relief. But it was also compelling because England were competing with such determination and assurance. Their cricket was precise, finding not only the correct note but the appropriate tempo.
For Peter Moores, the coach, it could hardly have been a more successful introduction to touring life with the England team. Hugh Morris, the new managing director who came out to Sri Lanka last week, must think think running international teams is a right lark.
Moores has been an unequivocal success. That is a facile judgement to make on a coach of a winning team, the same as calling him a total failure if England had lost. Nobody is more popular than the coach of a winning team, nobody more anointed with qualities – psychological, analytical, tactical – that are beyond mere mortals.
It was certain Moores would come under particularly close scrutiny on his first foray out of Blighty. There was an obvious inquisitiveness to see how he would cope with the repetition, especially marked on one-day tours, of play, train, hotel, play, train, hotel, travel, train, play. This was embellished, in his case, by a curiosity to compare his style with that of his predecessor, Duncan Fletcher.
Throughout his successful seven-year tenure, Fletcher was wary of all outsiders – anybody not in what he perpetually described as the team bubble – to the extent that he would sometimes blithely ignore people he knew. He called it a bubble, others called it a siege mentality and sometimes it was tempting to summon experts in such matters to start negotiations to see if anybody in there wanted to get out. That attitude heightened the urge to compare.
Moores is a different man. He is also a different coach. Everybody who was asked – and they all were – had a catch-all word for his style: communication. He recognises that if people within a team are not talking, about their own game, about their colleagues' games, about the game in general, then the team ethos is lessened, perhaps irretrievably.
He encourages his players to put their point of view sooner rather than later. His view is that a boil lanced is better than a boil festering. It was impossible to doubt Fletcher's commitment or attention to detail but Moores does it not only with a passionate smile but also with jaunty determination.
Then there are his training methods. Kevin Pietersen spoke almost in awe about the intensity of the players' preparation. KP being KP he said that it was something he had always done (true), as if it was about time the others caught up.
The captain should take many of the plaudits but Paul Collingwood was notably gracious in his thanks to Moores. This was instructive because there was no bigger supporter of Fletcher than Collingwood (and vice versa). Collingwood might have owed most of his success to his own gutsy self-belief and refusal to be written off but Fletcher did much to ensure he was not written off. When it was all going wrong in Australia last winter, Collingwood never wavered in his support of the coach, in public or in private.
It is perhaps natural for sportsmen to blow with the prevailing wind. It is in their interests. But Collingwood has clearly struck up a partnership with Moores.
The captain said of the coach: "He obviously has a massive enthusiasm and looks really deeply into stats and what's needed to be done, in these parts of the world, and to take our games forward. He gives the players every opportunity to better themselves as players.
"Our training sessions are real proper training sessions, every single person goes out there and tries to become a better cricketer. Communication is the key thing, really pointing out to the players where they need to be improving. There has been a lot of honesty and as a player I think you need that. What has been amazing about this trip is that it proves how far you can go if you play as a team and collectively make it difficult for the opposition."
Some of this may make it sound as if England have regained the Ashes and won the World Cup rather than beat India 4-3 at home and Sri Lanka 3-2 away in one-day series, but as Collingwood said: "Our prerogative is to win trophies but you have to win in places likes these along the way to build that confidence so you can do it anywhere, against anybody."
To have won this series by winning three matches in succession after falling behind was stunning. It was hot and clammy out there, especially unlike England in October, and the pitches were draining. Sri Lanka are nobody's patsies and their batting order contains some of the most adept one-day merchants around.
To their credit, they never complained about being without their bowling ace, Muttiah Muralitharan, who was injured, but then England went into the jungle of Dambulla without their champion, Andrew Flintoff.
If Moores propounds the collective approach it is also emerging that he promotes individual responsibility. He can spot what is wrong in a player and he will tell them so. But it is then up to the player to think about it himself and rectify matters.
England remain seventh in the International Cricket Council's rankings table. While not too much regard should be paid to that – a win in the final match on Saturday would have moved them to fourth – it will nonetheless act as a pertinent reminder that they should not get either above or too far ahead of themselves.
Collingwood, while declining to address short-comings publicly in the hour of triumph, is aware of their existence. The most glaring might be the opening partnership. England's highest first-wicket stand in 15 matches is 76 and on this tour, with Alastair Cook and Phil Mustard in place, it was 43. Three times the pair were parted with the score in single figures.
But Cook is a long-term investment and Mustard was a wonderful addition to the dressing room with good hands behind the wicket. Maybe a short-coming can become a strength.
England have problems but they will be addressed from a winning position. Moores' men can come back here in a month and win the Test series.
Power of three: The trio of county stalwarts who benefited most from Peter Moores' new and enlightened England regime
Left-arm swinger picked, apparently, as a horse for a course at Headingley in May. Since then, however, he has become the team's cleverest bowler, a living refutation to all those who say the county game is useless. That is where he honed his trade. Adjusted splendidly in Sri Lanka and was man of the series. He is here to stay.
Swanny, it is said by all who know him, is a bit of a lad. But, like his county colleague Sidebottom, he has learned. Back into the international arena as to the manor born, he spins the ball sharply and has a surprisingly cool head.
His 82 in Dambulla was the series' key innings. Might be the only international cricketer to have become a father while playing, as he did on Saturday when his wife gave birth to a daughter. Shah was informed during a drinks break.
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