Sorry end cannot spoil Andy Flower’s monumental successes with England
England’s management would do well to draw breath now. A change of style might be in order
It was probably all downhill for Andy Flower from the moment he gave up half his job. Much gloss was put on the manoeuvre in late 2012 by which Flower ceased being coach of all England’s teams and would instead look after only the Test side. The reasons given – relentless schedules, young family, work-life balance – seemed admirable, even visionary. But it meant that Flower, while titularly still team director, was absent from the squad for long periods.
Perhaps that was not the direct cause of the tour from hell that the 2013-14 expedition to Australia has long since become; perhaps England have simply been blasted apart by superior players who were better organised. But it left Flower in a dangerous state of limbo which he realised could not continue.
When he left Australia four weeks ago, handing over control of the limited-overs series to Ashley Giles, he was adamant that he wanted to continue and to lead the reconstruction of England after their horrific whitewash in the Ashes.
But it gradually became clear to Flower that such profound repairs could not take place in the prevailing circumstances, that it needed one man not only at the helm but to be seen at the helm if there was to be a way out of this mess. For the family reasons that, in truth, prompted the original division of labour, Flower could not be that man.
It leaves the legacy of Hugh Morris, the immediate past managing director of England cricket, in tatters. Morris was responsible for splitting the role simply so Flower would stay, and his successor Paul Downton, who does not officially start until Monday, is left to pick up the pieces.
Downton will want to make an appointment quickly but while he was undoubtedly sincere in his remarks yesterday that he would have preferred Flower to stay and is anxious to find another coaching job for him within the England and Wales Cricket Board, this gives him an early opportunity to stamp his own authority. He may appoint Giles but that should not be taken for granted. England are losing 11-1 in international matches in Australia at present and Giles, while helping to secure the only win, has been in charge for seven of them.
For most of his tenure, Flower has been a superb coach of England, disregarding the folly of what turned out to be his final series, when he simply never saw Australia coming. Had he been able to resolve the personal issues he might still have been the coach to plot the way forward again.
Any suggestion that his poor relationship with England’s star turn, Kevin Pietersen, is at the heart of his decision is wrong. Nor should it be taken as reinforcing Pietersen’s chances of continuing as an international cricketer.
What this episode demonstrates is that five years is a damnably long time in the job Flower held. The planning has to be detailed, the schedule is truly relentless, the time away from home is draining. The suitcase is never unpacked, the homework on the opposition never complete.
Flower was meticulous in his approach to every facet of his job, steadfast, honourable, occasionally, it is said, a martinet. He inherited a shambles, a dressing room in a state of chaos following the brief, bizarre tenure as captain of Pietersen.
In his first Test in temporary charge England were bowled out for 51 at Sabina Park. But by the end of that tour of West Indies it was clear that England needed his carefully designed structures, in which players were encouraged to take more responsibility for their own games.
By the end of the following summer, with Flower now confirmed in his role, England, against the run of play, had regained the Ashes. Flower made the players realise that by becoming difficult to beat they could also find a way to win.
With only one significant blip, in the UAE against Pakistan early in 2012, it was a period of monumental success, which this winter’s failures may overshadow but cannot conceal. England won the Ashes three times in all, once away, drew in South Africa, won their first major limited-overs trophy and won a Test series in India from behind. That is a long and distinguished list.
The change in captain, Alastair Cook taking over from Andrew Strauss, was seamless at first. It was as if Strauss was still there. In a way, he was, for it was his team, who were following his template.
When it began to unravel against an Australian side playing powerhouse cricket this winter, neither Flower nor Cook had an effective response. Flower had the grace to concede that it was the end of an era in English cricket but as he left Australia he restated his desire to stay in charge.
Until yesterday that was still the case. England’s management, who wanted him to retain control of the team, would do well to draw breath now. There was no official hint of how they might proceed but a change of pace and style might be in order.
The position of England team director is the best rewarded in the world, though nobody should doubt its onerous nature. There are few proven international coaches around and Downton may consider Giles, an Englishman who has been more or less groomed to take over, to be the leading candidate. But a trawl of big names from elsewhere rather than simply knocking on the room next door is the least that should be done before the appointment is made.
Flower of England: Coaching timeline
2007 Appointed as England’s assistant coach.
2009 Becomes interim team director for tour of West Indies following the departure of Peter Moores, before taking over on a permanent basis. Guides England to 2-1 home win over Australia as they regain the Ashes, before losing 6-1 in the one-day international series.
2010 Leads England to first ICC trophy, winning the World Twenty20 in the Caribbean as Paul Collingwood’s side beat Australia in the final. Test team complete 3-1 win over Pakistan in home series overshadowed by spot-fixing.
2011 England retain the Ashes with remarkable 3-1 series victory Down Under. A similarly resounding 4-0 series win at home against India takes England to No 1 in the Test rankings. Named coach of the year in BBC Sport Personality awards. Only downside is that one-day side are knocked out of World Cup in quarter-finals.
2012 England lose home Test series 2-0 to South Africa. Kevin Pietersen is dropped after he sends texts to opposition. Stands down from one-day and T20 duties to focus on Tests, handing over to Ashley Giles. England recover from 1-0 down for rare Test series win in India.
2013 Lucky to draw Test series 0-0 in New Zealand but England retain the Ashes 3-0 at home.
2014 England suffer 5-0 whitewash in return Ashes series, also losing ODI and T20 series.
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