Strauss's sportsmanship causes collision with Flower

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The Independent Online

Since taking over in the most unpromising circumstances the captain and coach of England have formed a close and mutually appreciative relationship. Sometimes, without being gushing, it has seemed that each could have been founders of the other's fan club.

Which does not mean they must agree on all matters, as Andy Flower demonstrated yesterday in mildly chiding his captain. The point of contention was the sporting gesture when Strauss recalled the departing Sri Lankan batsman, Angelo Mathews after he had been run out in the Champions Trophy tie between the sides on Friday night.

Mathews had collided with bowler Graham Onions in turning for a second run and was run out by yards. He was rightly despatched but Strauss generously spared him. While it eventually made no difference to the outcome, England winning a match in which they were distinct second favourites, it might easily have done.

Strauss said the dismissal did not look right, Flower, also a former international captain, thought otherwise. It is certainly not the sort of magnanimity he will be advocating today against a hard-nosed South Africa side. "I would definitely not have recalled him back," said Flower. "Absolutely not. Straussy is a good man and I trust him completely. He made his decision and I'll back him on that, but I just wouldn't have done it myself. I would have sent the batsman on his way, he ran into the bowler it is as simple as that."

On this, Flower was perfectly right. Mathews would have been unfortunate but these things occur in cricket: he was trying to steal a second run by the most direct route. It does not, however, make Strauss a soft touch and if anything it enhanced the quality of the performance.

What a difference a match makes. From having no hope, England are suddenly awash with the stuff. They must be careful not to drown. After defeating Sri Lanka by six wickets at the Wanderers they will today play South Africa on a different kind of surface at Centurion Park.

It will be slow, it will dictate attritional cricket and it may mean that England play two spinners, as South Africa certainly will. Flower did not rule out the recall of Adil Rashid, though it would immediately impose expectation on his 21-year-old shoulders.

It is impossible to be optimistic about England's prospects but then that was the prevailing sentiment before Friday. South Africa, like Sri Lanka, look too strong, though they also have their own high expectations with which to contend. "It is a huge challenge for us because they are rated the number one side in the world," said Flower. "We are huge underdogs and everyone realises that, but it doesn't mean we can't win the game."

Flower was also candid about the prospects of a recall for Ravi Bopara, who was dropped on Friday. "He is very talented and he is a good friend of mine from our time at Essex, but the polishing of him as a rough diamond has to be done by himself," Flower said.

England did themselves a power of good on Friday night. Whatever their common narrative about the amount of talent in the dressing room they must know that is where it mostly resides. Defeat today will not mean the end for England since victory against New Zealand on Tuesday may still permit progress to the semi-finals. But there we go again getting ahead of ourselves. So far, it is only one win.