Hands up who can remember the glory days of English cricket in the ’90’s. No, us neither. Here at 51allout we struggle to think back that far, either because we’re so fresh-faced that we were busy ogling Cat Deeley on SMTV:Live rather than watching Mike Atherton fend off Allan Donald at Trent Bridge or we were drinking the local distillery dry for most of that decade. We’ll leave you to decide who’s who. With that in mind, when we read Steve James had written a book looking at how Duncan Fletcher and Andy Flower transformed England from the laughing stocks of world cricket to (probably not really) the best side around we rushed out to purchase one. About half way to the local bookshop we realised that, actually, we’d much rather not pay for stuff. We came back, used the magic of the interweb to ask the man himself for a copy, and promptly got sent one for free to review. So the first thing we learned from The Plan is that Steve James is a much better man than we are.
It is an entertaining read. Not least because we can actually recall most of the ten years or so since Duncan Fletcher was appointed and it’s especially interesting to learn of some of the goings on behind the scenes; from the ECB’s desperate attempt to balls-up naming a new coach in 1999, through the way Fletcher laid the foundations for what was to follow, to the Peter Moores era and finally to Andy Flower. It’s clear that in writing this book he spoke to a vast number of people within the game, although a by-product of having to keep so many sources happy is that there are quite a few instances of ‘half-stories’ being told where the identity of some of those involved is left to the imagination. Fortunately, we stumbled across some research by accident and discovered that the journalist who Fletcher refused to shake hands with was Stephen Brenkley of the Independent. So you can have that one on us for free.
While we enjoyed reliving the successes of the Fletcher years, we especially liked the impassioned defence of his tenure towards the end. Being an English cricket fan makes you, by definition, a masochist, so the best bits were perhaps the ones focussed on the Ashes tour of 06/07 and the subsequent World Cup. It is also the point at which James is at his best; a steadfast defence of Fletcher is combined with a scathing review of the Schofield Report. Incidentally, he says he ‘just about managed to get through it (the Report) without falling asleep’, which is a commendable effort. We barely ground our way through the 19 points he includes here without slipping into a coma. The two recommendations for less first class cricket and a more streamlined international schedule raised a smile. Some things never change.
We were also extremely pleased as we read on and sensed the ever-increasing disdain held for the likes of Andrew Flintoff and Steve Harmison, who are about as popular within the confines of this website as the work experience kid when he waltzed off home one weekend with the key to the alcohol cabinet. Seeing the pair described as ‘terrorists’ was a particular highlight. That’s what you get for being mean to Athers, Mr Flintoff.
He seems to speak of Fletcher and Flower in very different ways, perhaps that’s simply because the relationship is different. He seems closer to Fletcher, more defensive of him. Although that may be because Flower is yet to experience the fall; there have been few occasions during his tenure where he’s come in for much criticism. It turns out not losing 5-0 to Australia is quite a good PR move. With that in mind we were very much looking forward to seeing if he would compare the two. We needn’t have worried; the final chapter is dedicated to picking who he thinks is the better coach. We thought about telling you who he chose, but we’re afraid not. We get the free stuff so you don’t have to, you’ll have to buy the book.