England in Sri Lanka: Fletcher's ghost exorcised

Refreshing openness as Moores brings back trio from international graveyard
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The Independent Online

Throughout England's sojourns of the past month there has been much discussion about what is coyly referred to as the previous regime. Players have been regularly asked about how they might have fared, if at all, under it. Idle chit-chat has frequently centred on whether the team and the management would have been as relaxed and approachable in it.

It is code. For previous regime read two other words: Duncan Fletcher. The fascination with the former coach – it would be no surprise to see his apparition in the hotel lobby as if he were the ghost of Hamlet's father – has been understandable for two reasons.

This is the first time England have been away under Peter Moores' regime and comparisons are natural. It is also the case that Fletcher's ghost-written autobiography will be published next month. Those who have read it indicate there is not exactly a joke on every page but that this is more than compensated for by the presence of old scores being settled.

Apparently unburdening himself of antagonisms that had built up over seven years, it is rumoured that he has a tilt at several icons of the game. You name them, they are said to be in Fletcher's sights and this is before he gets to a more likely target, the lowlifes of the Press.

Good for him, if so. It should ensure a few extra sales and add to the gaiety of the nation for a few weeks in the autumn. Nothing quite excites like a touch of bitterness. It might also confirm, of course, that some people's view of him were right all along.

These are still early days in his successor's tenure and Moores is a long way from achieving what Fletcher did with England. It was not just the Ashes but the run of five consecutive series wins that preceded it which also embraced eight successive wins in individual Tests.

Fletcher could spot a glitch in a batsman's method at 100 paces; his worth as a coach is beyond question. Moores, also an adept strategist, has taken over Test and one-day sides in transition.

There is a discernible difference in style and approach, probably as coaches, certainly as men. Fletcher was prickly and he was made more prickly because he did not recognise he was prickly; Moores is talkative, approachable. Where one man was wary, the other is open, where one conveyed the impression that he thought the world was out to get him, the other seems to think the world is a good place to be.

Of course, all coaches have matters on their mind. It goes with the territory but it is not essential to carry them on your shoulders permanently. Moores wears his enthusiasm on his sleeve, Fletcher preferred to keep his hidden somewhere deep in his back pocket.

It was perhaps easy for an enthusiast to be enthusiastic yesterday. His team, seemingly heading down the pan in the one-day series against Sri Lanka, had come back expertly in the second game to level matters at 1-1. The third today may prove effectively to be the final since the seasonal rains have come to Colombo and may not stop to let the last two games take place.

"We work very hard on trying to get the environment right," said Moores. "There is a lot of pressure on international sportsmen and we try to get it right, where they can relax and actually deliver their skills and go out there and feel it's OK to go out there and show what they have got on the international stage. That's the challenge, you don't want them to compromise themselves at all.

"You try to create a special environment which is unique to that team, and then you get special people and they get special results. We've got some really good characters on the team who are very underplayed. They're working hard, these are not great mind-blowing things, you try to keep things normal in what are sometimes slightly abnormal circumstances."

Moores and the selectors seem to have rescued the international careers of at least three players: Ryan Sidebottom, Owais Shah and Graeme Swann. Sidebottom had already done enough to earn a central contract, the other two have played sufficiently well in the last few days to be picked for the Test squad who return to Sri Lanka next month. Fletcher, it is probably fair to say, took a view on them not altogether in their favour. Being open-minded and being single-minded should not be two entirely different things.

Moores is extremely happy – enthusiastic indeed – with the appointment of Hugh Morris, the former Glamorgan captain and briefly a Test batsman, as the managing director of England. While it has been criticised in some quarters, Moores recognised the importance of bridging the gap between administrators and the game. Morris is coming to Colombo this week.

The toss will be important to both teams today. Both have lost early wickets batting second under the Rangiri ground's lights. But it is not win toss, win match and part of Moores' job will be to convince his team of that. This may be a low-key series but it would be a hugely significant win for the tourists, one to expunge the previous regime from future conversation.

Watch England take on the Sri Lankans on Sky Sports 2 from 10am-7pm today