Flower nurtures team spirit as results bloom

The quiet man behind England's success had the hardest job of all: bringing harmony and heart to a side once in disarray. Stephen Brenkley reports
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The Independent Online

When Andy Flower was invited to take over the England side they were in a mess. It was the mother and father of all messes. Coach and captain gone, alleged mutiny in the dressing room, revolution in the air.

He cannot remotely have anticipated in the dark days of early January that eight months on, during a blissful late August morning, he would be talking of how he plotted an Ashes victory. But he was and he had.

Flower was happy all right yesterday but he did not allow this to stray into effusiveness. The Ashes were a great prize, he knew that, but England are not a great side and he knew that too. But it must have taken not only coaching but man-management to get them this far.

"It has worked out OK but we don't want to go overboard," he said. "Three days ago we were bowled out for 300 and if we hadn't bowled them out for 160 we'd be saying very different things so we don't want to go overboard on that kind of stuff."

Throughout his tenure, taking over in the worst possible circumstances, he has portrayed abundant composure, always approachable, never excitable. Since he had played his international cricket for Zimbabwe perhaps it paled by comparison. Zimbabwe were pretty hopeless and they were playing in a country that had deeper problems than an indifferent cricket team.

Having played with distinction (12 Test hundreds, an average of 51) he departed with dignity when he and his team-mate, Henry Olonga, staged a silent black-armband protest against the insufferable regime of Robert Mugabe.

Flower has an English wife, he made his home in England. He went to Essex where he played well and imparted his wisdom and principles. Then he retired from playing and joined the England coaching staff at the invitation of Peter Moores.

It was Moores whom he succeeded last January when Kevin Pietersen, then the captain, launched his one-man revolt. The coup succeeded but brought down its perpetrator into the bargain. Flower had not banked on this.

For weeks, he could not decide whether to apply for the vacancy. He had family to consider, his loyalty to Moores and maybe whether the England and Wales Cricket Board were ever likely to receive a nomination for employer of the year.

Eventually, he wrote the letter. He got the job. The relationship with the captain, Andrew Strauss, has been central to the success. Put at its simplest, as Flower did: "I prepare the team, Strauss leads it on to the field. There are overlaps but that's pretty much it."

The coach, or rather the team director as the ECB insisted on calling him in this new dawn, praised Strauss handsomely but not fulsomely. "It helped a lot having a leader like Strauss around," he said. "He has been a rock around which the team has built innings and has shown very strong leadership."

The most remarkable aspect of England's win is the greatest testimony to Flower's ethos as coach and man. Almost all the striking individual performances – leading run makers and wicket takers – belonged to Australia. Yet England the team prevailed.

"We put down a few guidelines and principles we wanted to build the unit around," said Flower. "There were various steps we wanted to go through to make ourselves a better team I don't want to go into details but the guys have embraced them. One of them is definitely the team ethic, putting the team first above individual goals and ideals."

He said that the Test at Leeds when England were wretched had been a shock. He had, he said, learned a lot. The big thing about Flower is that he sounded prepared to learn a great deal more yet.