Flower on roll and in mood for revolution
Triumphant coach questions county system as he seeks to push English game forward
To have a prayer of provoking essential change in English cricket it is always advisable to speak from a position of strength. This does not mean that anything will actually happen but there is less likelihood of being kicked out of ECB headquarters at Lord's and made to walk the streets of St John's Wood naked until you repent.
There is probably no stronger position than to be coach of the team that has just retained the Ashes in Australia as well as being Twenty20 world champions, so when Andy Flower spoke yesterday of the defective system for delivering international players he has a chance of being heard. As Australia are discovering to their cost, the time to effect change is at the top of the pole not on the greasy slide down when it is almost invariably much too late.
Although the Ashes can still be drawn, the soul searching has begun in earnest because for the first time in 24 years the national team have failed to win the urn at home. The reasons why are being traced back to failing to build for the future when times were good and allowing ageing cricketers to grow too old together as well as allowing too many older players to extend their careers in the domestic game. No doubt it was these issues that Flower had in mind when he addressed the burning topic of whether England have what it takes to be the world's number one side.
"Yes I think we have, definitely," he said. "There's a lot of talent in English cricket. I'm not sure if the structure of English cricket is perfect for delivering Test cricketers. We've definitely got a talented group here and there is talent in the counties that we see. We think they can do special things.
"I hope it's not a battleground between England and the counties. But there is an issue there because the first-class system as a business doesn't seem efficient in England at the moment. It doesn't work financially from what I can see. So allocation of resources is going to be a tough one to balance for the decision-makers."
Flower, being the chap he is, will presumably address his points to the appropriate committees when he has the opportunity. He may well take along Australia as a necessary warning. All connected with the England team are anxious not to get ahead of themselves because they are only 2-1 ahead in the series with the last match still to play, starting in Sydney on Monday.
In Australia, however, they think the damage to have been done and are holding up the Poms as an exemplar of how to run a national cricket team. Flower's point is he has a decent group of players whom he has helped mould but that it is not made easy. "It's not a new subject, it's an old subject," he said. "I don't think every individual needs to come into the England set-up to improve. We've seen instances of guys coming in and doing well straight away. There are lots of examples so there must be lots of good stuff happening in the first-class game."
Indeed, of England's present top seven, four – Andrew Strauss, Alastair Cook, Jonathan Trott and Matt Prior – made a century on debut and two others – Ian Bell and Kevin Pietersen – scored fifties. But Flower's point is still sound and someone would do well to listen. In Australia they are lamenting the numbers of young, talented sportsmen lost to Aussie Rules football and in England it is possible that potentially gifted cricketers are slipping through the nets.
It is a fundamental part of Flower's balanced approach to his job that Ashes retained or not, planned world domination or not, he can not see beyond next week at the SCG. Celebrations after the win in Melbourne were vigorous but controlled, conducted with an eye on the extravagant nature of those in 2005 when the Ashes came home for the first time in 16 years and the team paraded to Trafalgar Square in an open-top double decker.
"Yes, we were aware of that after [winning in] 2009 and we encourage the players to keep their feet firmly on the floor and I think they've done that," said Flower. "We will be aware of it right now. I don't want to talk about open-top buses because we haven't won the series yet. It's still 2-1. I don't want to think about that for a second."
Instead he paid generous tribute to the more unsung players in England's team who have so unexpectedly played key roles in the series, particularly the fast bowlers Chris Tremlett and Tim Bresnan, who came into the reckoning after Stuart Broad's series was ended by injury in Adelaide. "One of the best things that has happened in this series is that a guy like Broad has got injured and Tremlett has stepped straight into the breach and fronted up out there in the middle under pressure," said Flower. "I think that is outstanding and Bresnan did it in this game.
"I think as a coach I feel proud of any one of our guys if they do well. But there are lots of small incidents along the way that contribute to wins or a feeling in a camp that create the right environment. For example there was Jonathan Trott getting a run-out to stop the momentum that their openers had in their second innings at the MCG."
The backroom boys: Unsung heroes who helped keep tight grip on the urn
Batting coach: Graham Gooch
The players and the coach, Andy Flower, swear by him. He brings sound technical analysis but above all he tells players what it is like to play long innings at Test level and how they should prepare to do it. He has been there and done it and his passion shines through.
Bowling coach: David Saker
Thoroughly affable Aussie who does not bother so much with actions and what to do with them but about what bowlers should be prepared to do to get batsmen out. He talks bowling night and day and he has offered splendid advice on Australian conditions. Paid his own fare to have interview for job last year. A real find.
Fielding coach: Richard Halsall
Quod erat demonstrandum as they say. Halsall was hired by previous coach Peter Moores and is so trusted by Flower that he took over briefly when Flower needed surgery to treat a facial melanoma earlier in the tour. Became obsessed with fielding improvements as a club cricketer, worked out sophisticated drills and the results are there for all to see.
Spin bowling coach: Mushtaq Ahmed
Knows all the tricks of the trade. Genial presence when around, who has respect of Flower and understands the patience required to be a spinner at the top level. Graeme Swann warms to him and he has been a helpful influence on Monty Panesar.
Physiotherapist: Kirk Russell
Long-serving Kiwi who will give up the role after the fifth Test. He has earned the trust of the players in at least two different teams and has a quiet authority on his subject. Will be much missed.
Fitness coach: Huw Bevan
Has had an astonishing impact on the team who he drills relentlessly. He is extremely fit himself and knows what he can expect from each player and has a habit of getting it. No question that fitness and stamina, and ability to concentrate have played a key role.
Soft tissue therapist and masseur: Mark Saxby
Probably knows more of the players' innermost thoughts from hours spent easing their aches and pains than anyone. Softly spoken and clearly liked and trusted by the team.
Team psychologist: Mark Bawden
He has certainly inspired some of the players. Ian Bell, for one, speaks highly of his influence and shows that high-level sportsmen need this kind of help, so fine are the margins.
Analyst: Nathan Leamon
Former director of coaching at Eton College follows every ball and channels them for purposes of improvement and searching for opponents' weaknesses. The devil is in the detail. Shares duties with Gemma Broad, sister of Stuart, who will be here for one-day series.
ICC Test world rankings
1. India 38/129
2. South Africa 32/116
3. England 39/112
4. Australia 37/110
5. Sri Lanka 27/109
6. Pakistan 26/88
7. West Indies 25/85
8. New Zealand 29/80
9. Bangladesh 19/7
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