Flower says players need summer rest to blossom

Coach admits he will give England team time off in hectic season that ends with the Ashes
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The Independent Online

England ended their long winter yesterday and immediately began preparing for the next one. As the team left Bangladesh with a clean sweep which they were fully aware did not prompt dancing in the streets at home, their coach, Andy Flower, reiterated his belief that this summer players must be given a break to be ready for the assignments that follow.

Rest and recuperation have been a fond dream of Flower's since he took over the job but the sight of Stuart Broad, one of his key players, tired and fractious (at least on the field) towards the end of the latest sojourn, should have concentrated his mind.

"Considering our hectic schedule, there are a number of people who might get breaks during the English summer and he is one possibility," Flower said. "We have played on some very flat decks and I don't think you can expect seamers to come here and dominate."

The surfaces in Bangladesh were always likely to prove beyond the pale for Broad and any other seamers around and so it proved. Broad took six wickets in the two Test matches at 46 runs each and he spent a good deal of the time fending off injury, looking exhausted and distinctly peeved. The one tends to follow the other.

Although there was much mutual back-slapping among the seam bowlers about a job well done on unresponsive pitches, they were not as probing as they proclaim. Perhaps they felt the lack of a bowling coach after Ottis Gibson's departure. Interviews for the post are taking place next week with David Saker, an Australian who has helped Victoria to two successive Sheffield Shield titles, believed to be on a shortlist of four.

If England choose to go once more to select a foreign coach they will claim they are merely hiring the best man for the job. But they could then spare us the lectures about the thousands they are pumping into county academies, performance centres and home-grown coaches.

Those bowlers who left the tour with injuries, Graham Onions and Ryan Sidebottom, may benefit from their enforced absence. Flower and the other selectors, who must be in a muddle with the fast bowlers by now, recognise the problems of rotation. Of the six fast men picked for the squad in Bangladesh, only one, Broad, played. Sidebottom and Onions were injured, Ajmal Shahzad, Liam Plunkett and Luke Wright not picked.

"We have a very busy schedule leading up to next winter and those challenges are important in their own right, the World Twenty20 and the English summer," Flower said. "While next winter is very important, with both the Ashes and the World Cup, we have got to win along the way to create the confidence that is necessary in an international team."

If England do not implement the right policy they risk turning up at the end of the year with a group of disaffected players. They leave in only a month for the Caribbean and the World Twenty20, which is either the end of their winter or the beginning of their summer. Who can tell any longer? Much has been made throughout the past six weeks – and, indeed, in the tour of South Africa which preceded it – of the tightness of the unit but their contracts with their employers, the England and Wales Cricket Board, remain unsigned after six months, which does not suggest everything is hunky dory.

Both sides are unwilling to detail the sticking points but they all come down to money and how much the players should earn for their constant round-the-world schedule. Two of them, Kevin Pietersen and Paul Collingwood, left yesterday to join their clubs in the Indian Premier League, where they will earn more in four weeks than they do in a year with England.

Unless there is a rapprochement shortly there is the potential for deep-seated resentment. The regular word is that agreement is imminent but that has been so since last September. England players are the best paid in the world but they still feel that they are not being handed enough of the pot their efforts help to generate.

Flower at least was prepared to be frank after a winter which has seen England reach the Champions Trophy semi-finals, win a one-day series and draw a Test series in South Africa, eventually crush Bangladesh in both forms without reply and draw two Twenty20 series. "I wouldn't say we have made huge strides forward but I think we have learnt quite a lot," he said. "We have got a way to go before we catch up to the top couple of sides in the world. We know that from our standing in the rankings at five. We have got a lot of hard work to do and thought has got to go into what makes us the strongest unit we can be." And that is the truth. England are good but not very good.

Packed programme: England's summer

April-May ICC World Twenty20 (Guyana)

May-June Two Tests v Bangladesh

19 June ODI v Scotland

22 June-3 July Five ODIs v Australia

8-12 July Three ODIs v Bangladesh

July-August Four Tests v Pakistan