Why is England coach Andy Flower so prickly?
Stephen Brenkley asks what's eating England coach who was unusually irritable after win over New Zealand
Andy Flower is an excellent coach of England. The figures speak for themselves: 51 Test matches, 27 wins, 13 draws during his tenure, which amounts to 16 series of which 11 have been won and two drawn.
Since that includes two Ashes series, home and away, and a victory in India, what's not, as they say, to like? Flower is meticulous, thoughtful, considerate, knowledgeable and tough as old boots. He is a serious operator who prefers to leave nothing to chance, believes in letting his players take responsibility and would rather see the good in them (and probably people generally) than the bad.
There is a "but" coming and it was enshrined by Flower's reaction after England completed a hugely emphatic victory in the home series against New Zealand. It amplified that these are changing times for Flower as coach, or to give him his formal title, team director.
Three immediate points are at hand. The first is the splitting of Flower's job. Since January he has been in day-to-day charge only of the Test part of England's schedule. The limited-overs duties have been passed to Ashley Giles.
They are different men and different coaches, and although Flower is nominally in overall charge, he is not the sort to interfere unnecessarily. But the effect on the different (or actually not so different) teams is yet to be fully realised.
So far, there has been only one example of the changing of the guard and there also seemed to be a discernible shift in the way that matters were handled. Giles was in charge of the limited-overs squads in India and New Zealand in the New Year, Flower returned for the Test leg in New Zealand.
It was a noticeable alteration. That is not to say that the players will fail to adapt but they will spot the difference. They are bound to compare and contrast since ten of the players who featured in the Test squad against New Zealand are also in the parties for the one-day series against New Zealand and the Champions Trophy, which will dominate the next three weeks.
Who has not worked for the deputy head of a department when the head is on holiday and found the deputy more to their liking? England are confident they can make this work but it is not as straightforward as they would like it to be.
Secondly, there is the perennial issue of Kevin Pietersen. His one-man mutiny of last summer seems to have been resolved and everybody involved with England cannot speak too highly now of his talent and the desire to have him back as soon as possible from injury.
But the effect on Flower for the months when Pietersen was at his most intractable and selfish should not be understated. It dominated his thoughts and probably affected the way in which he went to work in the morning. Nobody has said as much but it might have been another factor in Flower's desire to reduce his workload, albeit that most of it was the need and desire to spend more time with his family.
With Pietersen, misunderstood though he may feel, there is always the potential for something to be lurking under the surface. History confirms it and the way in which he is handled and responds will dictate much of the course for the rest of this year.
Thirdly, there has been a definite shift in the way the team feels it is perceived, and they may be right. The Pietersen issue and its aftermath altered things.
All the players, including Pietersen, are admirable in recognising and understanding their obligations to the public but they have become, by and large, less forthcoming in discussing matters of cricket in formal interviews. What goes on in the dressing room obviously must stay in the dressing room to some extent but England appear to have temporarily forgotten that the reason professional sport is played is because people watch it and want to be informed about it.
England followed their 170-run win at Lord's with one of 247 runs at Headingley on Tuesday, a statement of intent before the Ashes later this summer. Flower duly spoke separately to television, radio and newspapers. His briefings are scarce but invariably studious and thorough. It is doubtful if the coaches of the national football and rugby teams, or even the Prime Minister, would be permitted to offer their opinions so infrequently in this 24/7 world but it is a system that has been adopted and grudgingly accepted.
The observations of the England cricket team director may be the better for it. In the aftermath of the Headingley triumph it was perhaps understandable if he was a trifle tetchy.
He had to field questions about the team's strategy and tactics in the match, all wholly legitimate, about the follow-on, the rate of scoring and Alastair Cook's approach as captain, which made it seem as if he had signed a non-aggression pact.
Flower's body language on television was considered by some viewers to be non-compliant, though when asked if that was so the Sky interviewer, Mike Atherton, dismissed such a notion. Jonathan Agnew, the BBC cricket correspondent, immediately tweeted that his encounter had been prickly and indeed it was.
The briefing with the written press followed a familiar pattern in which Flower was carefully modulated in his answers, asked for questions to be better phrased and disagreed with some in which statements were made. He did not give much away. Perhaps there is not much to give away, but he agreed more or less entirely with Cook's tactics and was not about to be drawn too far along the road discussing Nick Compton's lack of form.
He was more expansive on Jonathan Trott's woeful scoring rate on Sunday night but actually this is the sort of batsman Trott is and has been since he started playing for England. The eventual pace of scoring of his 76 was in the middle rank of his Test fifties. His general reliability outweighs his occasional insularity. He has become Trotty.
"Yeah, I think he could have been a little more urgent on that evening," Flower said. "But... when he came back in the morning he was exactly that – so he adjusted his tempo and helped build up a formidable total for the England cricket side."
Flower now hands over the team to Giles until the Ashes. Should England win the Champions Trophy he will be happy but equally the focus on his team would immediately sharpen. He agreed he would miss it. "I will," he said. "But you can't have everything. I want to support Ashley properly, he's an excellent coach and a good man. Hopefully, this is an efficient use of our coaching resources and England cricket is better for it."
In Flower's time, no side in the world has won a higher proportion of Tests than England. South Africa, who defeated England last year, are correctly ranked as the world's top Test side but England are a close second. However, Flower did not seem particularly at ease with the world on Tuesday evening. Maybe the Ashes has that effect.
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