It’s fair to say a lot has happened over the last month which couldn’t have been foreseen: Johnny Trott heading home after the first game, Mitchell Johnson showing consistency, the Flying Beard continuing to be rubbish – the England selectors clearly didn’t see that one coming as they accidentally picked Jonny Bairstow as back up, rather than some sort of proper keeper – Harris not breaking, Swann taking wickets at 80 apiece before running for the hills, KP giving his wicket away and so on. Frankly, it’s a pretty long list, almost none of which makes us in the slightest bit happy.
One particular topic always due to blossom was the future of Andy Flower as head coach of ‘Team England’. Speculation began as soon as Flower’s responsibilities were preened back to solely concentrate on Test cricket; precedent says that as soon as a leader cedes some control the end is nigh – see Hussain/Vaughan, Strauss/Cook or that time Peter Capaldi had a bit part in Doctor Who. As speculation grew, Flower planted a further seed of doubt after this summer’s Oval Test by admitting he would only look forward one series at a time. Now that we’ve run out of shite gardening puns, let’s look at the pros and cons of a change at the top.
The first thing to say is, regardless of the current predicament, overall Flower has been a revelation for the England team. He has mainly presided over great success and just a handful of defeats, with even fewer of them capable of spurning a dubious quality cricketing website. Whilst he has undoubtedly been lucky to have some very talented players, he has managed to mould them into a very good team and get them playing to a highly effective strategy. All this whilst dealing with the egos of certain players, something that isn’t as easy as he has made it seem, as Peter Moores very clearly demonstrated.
He clearly has the respect of the players too. Whether this comes from his quality as a player or his strength of personality is unclear but it has been integral to his success. His well-publicised stance against Mugabe is a rare insight beyond the steely gaze and considered media sound bites. He has also built strong relationships with both Strauss and Cook (as Flower would refer to them) and his recent backing of the latter seems to show a mutual appreciation. In a similar vein, Hussain and Fletcher showed what can be achieved with a strong coach/captain axis.
Finally, we should really be careful what we wish for. As is shown numerous times in football, a change is not always for the better, as Daniel Levy will no doubt testify.
The latest series has been such as shambles that it cannot possibly be ignored. England have not just been beaten but embarrassed day after day. The batting, bowling and fielding have all been of village green standard and Flower appears unsure as to exactly why things have gone south so quickly. Maybe time is catching up with some players? Maybe the team were unprepared for the ferocity of the Australian onslaught? Maybe KP’s been texting the opposition again? The truth is no one seems to have any idea and as coach Flower has to shoulder most of the blame for that.
It’s possible things have just gone a little stale and a freshen up is required. No matter how good a coach is they always have a shelf life. It’s only a matter time before players get bored of hearing the same old ideas, series after series. As we discussed here, a change of batting coach is overdue and almost certain if Flower steps down.
Finally, a change of coach should bring a change of strategy. As already stated the six batsmen, four bowler plan has worked well with the current personnel but it feels like time for a change as the Australians have managed to dismantle the current plans piece by piece. With Swann on a beach somewhere and the emergence of Stokes (and he will definitely play 100 Tests with a little luck, mark my words) reverting to five bowlers seems logical. This would allow Finn to be used a strike bowler in much the same way Johnson has been used this series, although without the hideous facial hair.
Flower has had a magnificent run and we hold him in the highest esteem but the end of this series really does feel like a watershed in the same way 06/07 was for Fletcher (even if it took him until the following World Cup to fully appreciate it). After a dispute with our local bookmaker we no longer gamble on the Skrill Conference League South so instead we’ll have a few hard earned pounds on Flower wilting in the Sydney sunset in a week or so’s time.