Fletcher the architect of revival builds on foundation of team spirit

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The Independent Online

In 1998 Giles took 1 for 106 in 36 overs against South Africa then batted an hour in total as England, following on, scraped a draw. It was not the best of debuts but not a shocker either, yet he did not play another Test for 16 months.

He was not alone. England's selectors used to discard players with a random brutality. Graeme Hick and Philip DeFreitas were forever being dropped and recalled. In the 1989 Ashes the selectors worked their way through 29 players.

Australians looking at the ever-changing cast of substitute fielders may disagree, but in this series England have used the bare 11. With Simon Jones injured a change may be made for The Oval Test, but should the uncapped Chris Tremlett come in for Jones his nerves will be eased by the knowledge that he will not be judged on the one match.

There are many factors behind England's progress to the point where they can take on - and beat - the world champions, among them central contracts, the academy and the burgeoning support staff. But as important as any practical improvement is the human factor.

Under previous regimes both Giles and Matthew Hoggard, his partner at the crease as the sun dipped below the Nottingham skyline, would have spent the weekend playing county cricket. Giles would have been dropped after the Lord's débâcle, Hoggard after three ordinary Tests. Under Duncan Fletcher, however, continuity of selection, and trust in players' ability are the guiding principles. There was no panic after Lord's, the same XI were backed and they have responded by outplaying Australia for three successive Tests.

"[Continuity of selection] helps," said Giles yesterday. "You don't want to be going out there thinking, 'This could be your last game, if you don't get a wicket you're out'. In the last 12 to 18 months this team has done some special things because we've been consistent in selection. Fletch and [Michael] Vaughan have a lot of faith in the people they select."

It is not a comfort zone; as Chris Read and Graham Thorpe discovered, players do get dropped. But rookies get a run first and changes are usually made with a view to the long term. The team have thus been able to grow together and bond. The side Giles came into was a wary one with some players playing primarily for themselves, an inevitable consequence of chop-and-change team selection. Now they are a team. "It's a completely different atmosphere to '98," Giles added. "It's much more professional and we are much more together. I found it quite tricky in '98. No disrespect to anyone in that side, because players made me feel welcome, but it was very disjointed. Now we are basically another county team. We know each other that well. We've played that much cricket together."

The county analogy is borne out by Giles' statistics. In the last two years he has played 34 first-class matches -29 for England (not all of them Tests), just five for Warwickshire. The unity this breeds was evident in the team's celebrations, both at the ground and, later, in Nottingham. "You can see from the way we play we enjoy each others' company," Giles said.

Vaughan's approach has encouraged this aspect. Under Nasser Hussain, England became harder to beat. Like Hussain they were gutsy, dogged and crabby. Vaughan, though not without steel, is a more easy-going character. Aided by the huge advantage of taking over a side on the rise he lightened the mood, prompting players to open up and express themselves.

These two very different captains have both dovetailed well with Fletcher who, more than anyone, is the architect of England's climb up the world rankings. The 57-year-old first upset Australia as a player, taking 4 for 42 and making an unbeaten 69 as he led Zimbabwe to a shock victory in the 1983 World Cup. With Zimbabwe still a decade from Test status, Fletcher simultaneously forged a business career, devising the fledgling nation's car registration system along the way. When he moved into coaching, initially with Western Province in South Africa, then Glamorgan, this practical experience was put to use. Everything England do is meticulously organised and there is a platoon of back-up staff from bowling and fielding coaches to experts providing video analysis and dietary advice.

The England dressing-room is a lot more crowded than in 1998 but also, said Giles, "much more professional". He added: "I hardly knew anyone, I really didn't know what was expected of me. It's a whole different atmosphere now."

Fletcher was appointed in June 1999 with England sliding to a series defeat to New Zealand. After losing the decisive final Test at The Oval, Hussain and his team were booed by the crowd. Gradually Fletcher and Hussain turned the team around with Fletcher, aided by Lord MacLaurin, overcoming county resistance to central contracts - a prime reason the bowlers have largely remained fit.

Fletcher is a players' coach. He keeps a low profile and always defends his team. Even after the Lord's drubbing he said there were "positives, we batted more overs than Australia". "Loyalty and trust are key factors with Duncan. He'll never make you look an idiot in public," Hussain said.

His other strengths are his judgement of individuals - players are chosen on character as well as talent - and technical knowledge. Hussain added: "He's a brilliant analyst of the game." It is mainly Fletcher who devised the ploys which have stifled Australia's strokemakers.

Alongside his belief in hard work and discipline Fletcher and his captains have built a team brimming with confidence and potential. "The side is capable of going on and doing great things," said Hoggard yesterday. "We're quite a young side and we can improve so the future looks bright. We can become the Australia of the last 10 years."