Flower in spotlight at Lord's
Durham 244-4 v MCC
Friday 10 April 2009
A bit too much poor light in the middle and no great illumination on the sidelines. But a long conversation between national selector Geoff Miller and England's assistant coach, Andy Flower, looked like the most significant development at Lord's yesterday.
With gnat strength drizzle and dark clouds interrupting the action between MCC and Durham for two hours, a new cricket season spluttered rather than burst into life as the county champions made 244 for 4. More covers-airer than curtain-raiser, really, until brighter afternoon skies allowed a good passage of play either side of tea.
There was still plenty of time, though, for an Australian – albeit one with an Italian passport – to score the first half-century of a summer that will be dominated by Ashes battles. And while Michael di Venuto struck eight fours in his 79-ball innings of 53, Miller and Flower shut themselves away in one of the media centre's spare rooms to talk business.
Flower has become an increasingly strong favourite to succeed Peter Moores, who was sacked as head coach in January, and an announcement is expected next week at the latest. But the sight of him spending several hours with Miller, in full view of anyone who cared to look, will only support the view that England are proposing to promote from within, rather than look further afield.
Miller dead batted. He said the talks were "private" before adding that their chat was "debriefing mainly about players and situations so I can plan for the summer. I just needed to get a feel of what Andy felt from within the changing room [during the recent tour of West Indies] so I could get some kind of character references, and where he felt we needed to strengthen as players and as people."
Although England managing director Hugh Morris will make the final decision on who should be head coach, the fact that both captain Andrew Strauss and Miller worked well with Flower in the winter must count for quite a lot. "The relationship between the captain and the coach was very good," said the head selector. "Relationships are vital. My relationship with him is good, too."
Whatever the make-up of the management team, picking a side for the summer's first Test – against West Indies, at Lord's – is a task just around the corner. Miller revealed that a squad, probably 14- or 15-strong, will be announced at the end of next week, more than a fortnight ahead of the season's first international fixture and before several county sides have played a championship match.
Miller realises such an arrangement is far from ideal but just about unavoidable this year, so possible Test picks Owais Shah and Ravi Bopara know when to cut short their Indian Premier League commitments in South Africa and return home.
That being the case, no chance must be wasted by those in this country hoping to stake a claim. For example, Michael Vaughan and Rob Key, two candidates for the No 3 spot, may have only one innings for MCC against Durham in order to show what sort of form they are in.
Yesterday, it was the turn of some budding England pace bowlers to try to impress Miller. Kabir Ali and Sajid Mahmood both struggled to hit a good line and length when the pitch was at its greenest. But both improved later while Tim Bresnan and 20-year-old Warwickshire seamer Chris Woakes justified Key's decision to field.
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