Unflustered Andy Flower says England will bounce back from debacle
Coach expects his side to show their true quality in second Test with South Africa
In coming to praise South Africa yesterday, Andy Flower was careful to champion England. After a week in which he has had time to marshal his thoughts while spending a few days away with his family, England's coach neither sought to disguise the heaviness of the defeat in the first Test nor to diminish his team's chances of coming back in the series.
"They outplayed us and they played outstanding cricket and deserved to win the game obviously," he said yesterday. "We didn't. We fought hard but we weren't good enough for that Test. We get another opportunity on Thursday.
"We get ourselves into the right frame of mind by doing the same things that we've been doing very well of the last couple of years. I have every confidence in our players that we can come back and play good cricket."
The second Test, starting at Headingley tomorrow, promises to be a belter. England will have several points to prove, feeling as beaten teams usually do that they are being unfairly criticised, and South Africa, cautious not to overstate their case, are in pre-eminent nick.
After a period of reflection, Flower applied the sort of level-headed earnestness which has served him and his charges so well until recently. He was reluctant to speak of the defeat in its immediate aftermath, perhaps because it was so overwhelming and when he broke his silence yesterday he was not of a mind exactly to unburden his soul.
Although England, still the world's No 1 team according to the ICC rankings, have lost five of their last nine matches including a 3-0 series defeat to Pakistan in the UAE, Flower sees no cause for either panic or change.
He did not quite say it but his theme was that England have not become a bad team overnight. And he was certainly not about to give credence to the off spinner Graeme Swann's opinion that they had recently been dismal and failed to evolve swiftly enough.
"I think you have to look a little deeper than that," said Flower. "The series in the UAE was in specific conditions and we struggled against their two spinners. You can't compare that to the first Test against South Africa. We are constantly looking at improving and if that is what you mean by evolving, I would disagree with that statement.
"We don't try to prepare as if it's another game, we try to make every Test special, we've practised hard this afternoon, each individual has his own methods of preparation and we do certain things as a team that have stood us in good stead. After one Test loss you don't throw that away."
England will have one certain change to their team, with James Taylor, the 22-year-old 5ft 4in Nottinghamshire batsman, taking over the troublesome No 6 place in the batting order from Ravi Bopara, who withdrew from selection for personal reasons. Flower said categorically that while a door was opening for Taylor it was not closing on Bopara's Test career.
It seems that Taylor is something of an unknown quantity, although Flower did witness the batsman's diligently assembled 76 for England Lions at Derby last year, which must have made some impression.
"I certainly hope James can make six his spot for a while," said Flower. "I don't know him that well. He looks like a young man who understands his game pretty well and he knows how to score runs in his way. We don't know how he's going to do but we all wish him well and hope he makes a wonderful international career."
Having had four selected occupants of the No 6 spot this year with a combined average under 20 and a top score of 41, England desperately need Taylor to find his feet quickly. Apart from anything else, it would enhance the reputation of the Academy and Lions system.
Flower expects England to perform better and that his guidance and advice is more effective. He was not, thank goodness, without a wry reflection on the proceedings at The Oval.
"Sometimes you are outplayed regardless of attempts at dismissal or strategy implemented so you have to give credit to the opposition," he said. "It would be very hard for me to argue our strategies were in any way successful after that loss."
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