Kevin Pietersen autobiography: KP will not cast feats of Andy Flower into the shadows

Stephen Brenkley@stephenbrenkley
Sunday 12 October 2014 00:06

A coach is invariably defined by how often his teams win. It is a truth universally acknowledged. Win and he stays in the job, lose and he is packing his troubles in the old kitbag faster than a Mitchell Johnson bumper.

England teams coached by Andy Flower under three different captains claimed the Ashes three times in a row, became the No 1 Test side in the world, came back from behind to beat India in India, thrillingly won a major limited-overs tournament for the first time and, in all, won 12 and lost three of their 18 Test series. It was a handsome record which unravelled slightly (all right, a lot) when the team ran into the aforementioned Johnson last winter. Johnson indeed was probably the catalyst for much of what happened last week.

The compelling diatribe published by Kevin Pietersen rewrites this view of a coach. When England prevailed in Australia in 2010-11, for the first time in 24 years, it seemed to be a magical sporting achievement. It was a privilege to witness a heroic team perform heroic deeds helped by the guidance of a coach who left nothing to chance, who planned and prepared meticulously.

According to Pietersen, however, it was perfectly straightforward. "I'm thinking, that son of mine could coach this team from the buggy. So many guys are on fire at the same time. Australia are so bad."

Pietersen, speaking directly to Flower, says later on in the book: "Bad times are when coaches prove themselves. In bad times you were the problem, not the solution."

This will not do. It really will not. Flower, like most of those castigated by Pietersen in his masterful but misguided polemic, has chosen not to respond. Others, including his employers for whom he helped, like Pietersen, to bring unprecedented achievement and for whom, unlike Pietersen, he still works – developing the next generation of talent, no less – might have leapt to their man's defence. Others, this reporter included, ought to have done.

Flower can be a tetchy sod. His wariness of the press burgeoned during his seasons in charge of England. He did not warm to the regular routine of press conferences and they became fewer. He always tried, he weighed every question as if he were being asked to comment on the meaning of life and he knew every word that was written.

After England's heavy loss to South Africa at The Oval in 2012 (the visitors made 637 for 2 against the world's top-ranked team) there was an unseemly kerfuffle. Flower was declining to appear to speak to the press then or the next day and the team media-relations officer was hounded ferociously. My swift contribution to this ragtag debate was that Flower would regret his stance.

Dashing to the train a couple of hours later, the story of England's demise written for that day, the mobile went. It was Flower seeking an explanation about the threat to him. The explanation, that he would regret it when he came to realise that he should have spoken about such an overwhelming defeat because the fans deserved it, was brushed aside. Flower was upset and obsessive: four times the train went into tunnels with reception lost and four times he rang back. He also imparted during that discussion that there was nothing in his contract that said he had to speak to the press. Well, there should have been.

It seemed obsessive behaviour for a man whose side had just been hammered to be calling a reporter. He rang three others that evening as well. But that in a way summed him up – driven, particular, wanting to do what was best for his team.

Any profile of Flower inevitably refers to his black-armband protest against the Zimbabwean tyrant Robert Mugabe. Of course, that commands unending admiration which even the odious supporters of Pietersen would struggle to belittle but that was never a particular cause for respect in this quarter. It was Flower's obvious feeling for his fellow man and for the game from which he made his living. He was usually serious and earnest but at the last time of checking they had not become offences against humanity.

Pietersen's chief complaint about Flower is that he was much too uptight and restrictive, so that his players were cabined, cribbed, confined. Pietersen's most spectacular innings for England remains his 158 at The Oval to ensure the Ashes were secured after 16 years in 2005.

But they were all but matched by a resplendent trio of attacking innings in 2012 against Sri Lanka, South Africa and India, 151, 149 and 186. Who knows what he might have done had Flower allowed him to express himself? And Flower was at the helm when England won the World Twenty20 and Pietersen was man of the tournament. It seems that he did it all despite Flower.

That year of 2012, the relationship between Flower and Pietersen markedly declined. Mainly to do with the Indian Premier League and Pietersen's fervent desire to play in it, Flower was dragged down by it. His mood was indeed darkened.

But Pietersen ought to be bright enough to know that without Flower's influence and desire (reluctant though he might have been) there would have been no prospect of Pietersen returning to the side after the 2012 bust-up. Flower recognised how Pietersen's more explosive batting, to complement Alastair Cook, Jonathan Trott and Ian Bell, could help to defeat India.

It was never quite the same and Flower was also affected by what the relentless nature of the job was doing to his home life. Far from failing to understand Pietersen's constant harping about this, he knew only too well. Flower has been harangued by Pietersen in such a way this week that there can never be any cosy team reunions. Flower has a better Test batting average than Pietersen (51.55 to 47.29). It is not the only department in which he is superior.

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