Flower keen to keep pushing England to top

No need to call for review like four years ago but coach stresses importance of not resting on laurels
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Well, blow everybody down, it can hardly come much better than that. How could it? To have prevailed against Australia by inflicting three innings defeats is the stuff of English fantasy.

But at 11.56am Eastern Standard Time in Sydney on Friday it happened. Chris Tremlett, whose life has changed irrevocably in three tumultuous weeks, bowled Michael Beer off his pads and England had won the match by an innings and 83 runs and the Ashes series by 3-1.

As the dust settles in the next few days, it will become fashionable to suggest that Australia were pretty hopeless, had it coming to them, and that England only did the necessary. This theory should be rebuffed sternly and instantly; England were sensationally good.

In a room above a casino known as Star City early yesterday afternoon, Andy Flower, their coach, was able to reflect quietly, soberly on a job well, nay brilliantly, done. It was the same garish emporium where, four years ago almost to the day, an inquiry was announced into the state of the England team in the wake of a 5-0 defeat.

There was some guff about it being a matter of routine, but that was nonsense. The result alone prompted what became known as the Schofield Report, a wide-ranging piece of fluff, some bits of which have been acted on and some of which have not. At the time it was suggested that such inquiries should be held come what may, whether in victory or defeat.

The launch of the latest inquest was conspicuous by its absence and there seem to be no plans afoot to have one. Ah, God's in his heaven, all's right with the world. But if Flower were to be consulted – and he should be consulted about every little thing – he would welcome the scrutiny.

"There should be reviews held at various junctures whether you win or lose and that is how we operate in our team," he said. "We review what we did and try and learn from it. I think the ECB should review what has happened over the last four years and there will be good and bad in that. I don't know who would conduct that review but that is how you learn."

The new Schofield would find that England have a genuine chance of becoming the world's No 1 side, partlybecause of a meticulous attention to detail and partly because Flower and the captain, Andrew Strauss, have created an atmosphere which allows each individual to prosper.

What a blessing it was for English cricket when they came together. It has been another anniversary in the past few days: two years since the unforeseen cataclysm which led to the departure of Kevin Pietersen as captain and Peter Moores as coach.

Without that there would have been no Flower, no Strauss, no Ashes, and the selectors who are understandably dragging their thumbs down their chest in self-congratulation might have been seeking alternative employment. They have picked a grand team, but with the two most important roles in it they got lucky.

Hugh Morris, the England managing director, had, said Flower, taken a leap of faith in appointing him. Around the same time someone else high up in the ECB said that Flower would be coach of England over his dead body. Shrewd chap, that Morris.

There is reason to believe that this team will not make the mistake that the 2005 Ashes-winners did. They got ahead of themselves, and before they knew it they were split asunder and losing. It has been a long road back and the feeling now is that Flower will not dwell on this historic victory but remind the team that there are always other challenges ahead.

He gave a glimpse, no more, into the ethos and specialised practice which has made this team greater than the sum of its parts. But some of that credit should go to Moores, a stickler for innovative intensity who might not have been quite as good at winning over the players. They are put under pressure in training. "There are various things you can do," said Flower. "You replicate the middle, you overtrain, you up the speeds that you train them at, you fatigue them physically. We've got a very good management and coaching staff. I think they have helped in creating the right environment for this group to learn."

The staff have been selected brick by brick. It was notable that Strauss, in his first address after the series was won, paid tribute to the physiotherapist Kirk Russell, who has stood down after nine years. That will change the dynamic of the dressing room a little. Flower hopes the others may stay a little while – batting coach Graham Gooch, of whom the batsmen are huge fans, is going nowhere and the well-liked Australian bowling coach David Saker has just signed a new three-year deal – but he is pragmatic.

He never looks more than a few months ahead. It is possible to imagine he will leave the job on his own terms within the next two or three years, all the accomplishments done. "Things could change very quickly," he said. "There could be any sort of controversy or scandal just round the corner that scuppers things."

But in Sydney yesterday, if there was controversy and scandal it was all Australian. The holders of the Ashes were home free.

Things can only get better...

The new batsman

A new batsman will come into the side. After keeping virtually the same middle order for five years, Paul Collingwood's retirement means an enforced change. Andy Flower, the coach, said yesterday that if the next Test was tomorrow, Eoin Morgan would play. But the next Test is not until May and as Flower said, a lot can happen between now and then. One weakness is the lack of bowlers in the top six. With four specialist bowlers it is important that somebody can give them a break on long, hot days. Morgan is no bowler and somebody like Ravi Bopara, who can bowl medium pace, could come back. There is no question of playing five bowlers now because Bresnan and Broad are good enough to bat at seven and Matt Prior is much more effective there than he would be at six. What was good enough for Adam Gilchrist...

Strength in depth

England can never have had such resources at their disposal. Five seam bowlers played in the Ashes series and all were crucial to the triumph. Chris Tremlett underwent a glorious renaissance and is likely to start in May against Sri Lanka. But Tim Bresnan, too, was a revelation as an accurate hit-the-deck craftsman with genuine swing. Ajmal Shahzad also enjoys the trust and confidence of the team. Other countries don't have England's depth, as Australia showed. There is not quite reason to be as confident about the batting because so much of it is untried. Bopara is an obvious back-up while others who impressed with the Performance Programme this winter include James Hildreth of Somerset, James Taylor of Leicestershire, Adam Lyth of Yorkshire and Ben Stokes of Durham. Steve Davies is a capable wicketkeeper but also lacks experience at the top level. New faces will be introduced gradually so evolution can be seamless.

The one-day kings

In three months' time, England will know more about their limited-overs status. If they are in the World Cup final in Mumbai on 2 April, all their recent progress will be confirmed. There are reasons for confidence as their grand victory in the World Twenty20 last May amply demonstrated. The key issue has been the selection; they have got the specialists right. Winning in India will be tough because they will be preparing for the subcontinent by playing seven one-dayers in Australia. But if anyone can do it, Flower's England can.

The rankings

England now stand third in the Test rankings on 115 points behind India, who have a clear lead on 128, and South Africa on 117. But there is a genuine belief based on firm evidence that both can be overhauled this year or next. The first hurdle to surmount will be beating India at home this summer (and Sri Lanka before them) which will narrow the gap. India away will present the sternest challenge and it is not beyond the bounds of possibility that the Indian board will insist on adding two Tests to the five one-dayers for November. It will be tempting for a side in form but England need rest and should resist at all costs.

Stephen Brenkley

Comments