On being offered a perfect opportunity to engage in verbal skirmishes with South Africa yesterday, Andy Flower dashed for the moral high ground. It was a smooth and dignified manoeuvre by the England coach who, given the tactics adopted by the opposition, may yet have to turn the other cheek a time or two in his principled eyrie.
Twice in recent days South Africa, through their captain and coach, have extended advice to England. Graeme Smith said that Andrew Strauss should be playing in the Twenty20 matches (and might have had a point). Then Mickey Arthur let it be known after his team's overwhelming victory in the second Twenty20 that he thought England's use of their young leg-spinner, Adil Rashid, was criminal.
Rashid was removed from the attack, never to return, after conceding 25 runs in his only over. Nor was Arthur content with a solitary sally, since he also suggested that England should have altered their batting order to have any hope of chasing the gargantuan 242 they required.
If Flower was miffed (and he was) at the unsought intervention in his team's affairs he did his damnedest to avoid showing it. "I have been asked repeatedly about some of the comments from the opposition coach," he said. "All I would say is that I have gone through my career as a player, and I will continue to do so as a coach, in as modest a fashion as possible.
"Perhaps their status as No 1 is encouraging them to react differently. But I am very comfortable about where we are as a team and I concentrate all my energies on us as a team; yes, analysing the opposition, but I won't be commenting on them."
Putting it like that, of course, was beautifully designed to make South Africa look like bully boys. No sooner do they achieve their overriding ambition of being the best side in the world than they start dishing it out.
What Flower could deal with fully was the issue that Smith and Arthur, mischievous though they were, might also have been right. Rashid must have been embarrassed as the part-time spin of Kevin Pietersen and Joe Denly was preferred to his specialist variety all because of one over.
"Adil bowled six balls to two batsmen who were absolutely set," Flower said. "It was a flat wicket, it wasn't turning and it was a small outfield and he got punished in those six balls.
"I know Adil. He's a 22-year-old leg-spinner finding his way. He's very skilful, he's going to be a very good all-rounder. He's been doing some excellent work with Mushtaq Ahmed, our bowling coach. I'm not overly concerned about what happened yesterday. We obviously deal with the individuals in an appropriate way, regardless of comments from the opposition."
It seems that Rashid may well be given the chance to get back on the bike quickly with a place in the side for the warm-up 50-over match against South Africa A tonight. Rashid will take the place of Graeme Swann who has a side strain. Paul Collingwood (back) and Jimmy Anderson (knee) are also unavailable.
Flower said he hoped all three would be fit to play in the first 50-over international on Friday, though was more pessimistic about the chances of Stuart Broad, who has had a series of injections in his right shoulder. England's intense programme is beginning to take its toll at the wrong time.
There was some encouraging news for England from South Africa's former fast bowler and England's former bowling coach, Allan Donald. He thinks that South Africa are worried about their bowling attack for the Test series. Donald said: "Mickey Arthur is really concerned they won't take 20 wickets. I think the SA attack is a bit weaker and the England attack is a nose in front with tall bowlers, guys who bowl heavy lengths."
The concern is that two of them, Anderson and Broad, are not fit.Reuse content