Fletcher's belief fired by Arctic explorer
England's unexpected but welcome success in Australia highlights how fickle one-day cricket can be. Two- and-a-half weeks ago, in the wake of the team's humiliating nine-wicket defeat to Australia in Adelaide, England's World Cup plans appeared to be in tatters.
But now, after three majestic wins over the world champions, there is a belief by many that England could possibly surprise everyone and win international cricket's biggest prize in Barbados on 28 April. The team who outplayed Australia will be strengthened by the return of Michael Vaughan, Kevin Pietersen and James Anderson, and with the confidence and momentum gained, who knows?
Prior to the team's doomed Ashes campaign it was Ricky Ponting's side who had been labelled as "Dad's Army", but the introduction of Paul Nixon and Malachy Loye to the England's one-day series line-up, and rumours that Darren Gough was about to be drafted into the World Cup squad, made Corporal Jones seem cool, calm and collected under pressure when compared to the nation's selectors.
But after watching their bag of Liquorice Allsorts turn into an embossed box of truffles, this group have every right to sit back in an armchair and look down on their critics. The only problem for the selectors is that the World Cup begins in a month's time and nobody can be sure which England side will turn up.
One of the attractions of one-day cricket is that there is no middle ground. Everything is black and white. You either win or lose. Emotions are immediate and raw, and the game's helter-skelter nature causes even the most composed of men to panic. These are factors that ensure crowds continue to flock in.
There are formulas that work and the best team normally leave as victor, but results are far more unpredictable than Test cricket. This is because one player can change the course of a limited-over game, whereas it takes at least three or four to manufacture a Test win. Ed Joyce performed this task in Sydney 11 days ago and Paul Collingwood continued the fine work in England's last three games.
When a team get on a winning roll they believe they can triumph from any situation, yet when defeat becomes the norm negative thoughts spread through the side like a highly contagious disease. Somewhere among all of this somebody has to try to keep a level head, and for England, in the absence of Vaughan, the responsibility lies with Duncan Fletcher, the coach.
After the Adelaide disaster, Fletcher was being told by the British public to pack his bags and catch the next flight back to Cape Town. The criticism hurt but he gained support from Alan Chambers, the former Royal Marine and adventurer, who led the first unsupported walk to the North Pole from Canada.
Fletcher used Chambers to deliver an inspirational, leadership and team building talk to his side before the 2005 Ashes and he has kept in regular contact with him since. "I am quite philosophical about[the criticism]," Fletcher said. "Alan Chambers has been very good to me. He has sent me a few emails and he has been the most positive person to speak to me on tour.
"We call him the iceman and he gave me a great statement by the late Mother Teresa. From that I've just looked at it all and you can see what's happened. His statement was basically this: 'Mother Teresa said that when you're successful you win some unfaithful friends and some genuine enemies'. I'll leave it at that." So it was inevitable that he wore an air of smugness when he spoke about his side's success.
"If you are a positive coach, you wouldn't think otherwise," said Fletcher in response to a question asking whether he thought the turnaround was possible after Adelaide. "If you are a coach and you believe in your players, you believe they can do anything. It rates as one of the best wins we've had in my time, considering where we were and where we've ended up.
"With young players you don't know what the limit is. I've often seen young sides put it together. These young guys can do it. I sat watching them make basic mistakes, but I knew the potential was there.
"It was tremendous. I had belief in the youngsters. I said it was an area where they could grow and they showed it in these four games. I also believe there is still a huge improvement to be made. Hopefully, they can produce that at the World Cup.
"Four wins have lifted the side. Nobody can deny that. To beat Australia, what I like about it is that they have been solid performances. We could have scrambled in with overthrows and the last ball of the game and not deserved to win. But you can't turn round after those four games and say that we did not deserve to win all four. They have been top-class performances.
"I've said before that maybe the World Cup was a year too early for them, but suddenly they've done something and I don't know where we are. Maybe it is six months too early. Or we might get to the World Cup, do something, and say we are bang on target."
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