India in England August 18, 2014

Moores' standing lifted by fightback

The team environment is, in victory or defeat, now more relaxed and, as a consequence, the players are more likely to produce their best form

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'Moeen Ali's bowling a huge positive'

There was an interesting insight into the mood of the England squad during a press conference at The Ageas Bowl.

Perhaps because it was a final question, perhaps because it was almost dismissed as an after-thought, Peter Moores, the England coach, provided an answer that, on reflection, may well have had greater significance than it appeared at the time.

Asked if England had hit rock bottom after defeat to India in the second Investec Test at Lord's, Moores replied: "Who knows what rock bottom is? But it is probably not losing a cricket match."

Contrast that with a question put to Andy Flower towards the end of the Ashes series in Australia. Asked whether the England camp was "happy", Flower looked quizzical and replied something along the lines of "I'm not sure that is relevant. But there is a positive working environment, yes."

While it might be unwise to draw too many conclusions from such scant evidence, it does support the sense of recent weeks that, after many months of building pressure and impending doom under Flower's leadership, the arrival of Moores has acted like a breath of fresh air. Defeat is no longer a disaster. Victory is no longer the ultimate. The England team environment is, in victory or defeat, now more relaxed and, as a consequence, the players are more likely to produce their best form.

Such an interpretation is harsh on Flower. No coach, with the possible exception of Duncan Fletcher, has ever provided so much to an England team and his role in taking England to No. 1 in all formats, to the regular Ashes wins and a first global trophy, should never be underestimated. England owe him a great deal and Moores would be the first to credit him.

But, along with many others in and around the squad, something changed in Flower towards the end of the Ashes. Bent out of shape by disappointment and worry and weariness, the smile was replaced with a grimace, the light touch was replaced by an iron grip and joy in the squad was replaced with anxiety and fear. The desire to win, or at least not lose, was stifling. The desire to control limited any expression or movement.

New players felt paralysed in the environment. Old ones felt exhausted. The sight of the team forced into a punishing - and yes, that is the right word - fitness session in the heat of Sydney two days before the final Test, said it all. Flower had nothing left to offer but hard work and fierce determination. They are not, by any means, bad qualities. But they are not enough. All the subtly had been lost. England were all stick and no carrot.

It is not that Moores will work the squad any less hard. They will still be obliged to improve their fitness and their skills. They will still be challenged. And they will continue to miss Flower's advice and insight.

But, over the course of seven Tests this summer, we have seen a new spirit emerge in the England team. We have seen a team in which inexperienced international players - the likes of Chris Jordan, Liam Plunkett, Gary Ballance and Moeen Ali - are made to feel comfortable - compare it with the experience of Boyd Rankin or Simon Kerrigan - a team where the spirit of the new players had lifted the spirit of the older, more jaded players, where players have been allowed to settle in and, over time, start to perform to somewhere near the best of their ability. All that reflects well on the environment around the squad.

More than that, though, we have seen Alastair Cook begin to grow as a leader. We saw a man who started to trust his less experienced bowlers and spare his more experienced ones. And, more importantly, we saw a man who dealt with extreme pressure with a great deal of determination, a phlegmatic attitude and more than a little dignity.

Yes, he slipped up occasionally. But many would have snapped back far more forcibly at the likes of Shane Warne and Piers Morgan. And, in the moment of victory, he was graceful and generous to his beaten opponents and successful team. His batting might still be a concern, but he was, in leadership terms, increasingly impressive.

Perhaps the influence of Moores was important here, too. With Moores gently encouraging but allowing the players to develop in their own way, Cook has been able to find his voice as captain. Flower was wonderful. But he cast a large shadow. And not much grows in the shadows.

Flower, of course, is not the only man to leave the England dressing room in recent times. Kevin Pietersen has been another high profile departure and some might argue that it is his absence, more than Flower's which has contributed to the partial revival.

Either way, it was interesting to hear Moores play down his own part in England series win and mention Cook's "humility" as a key ingredient in his development as captain.

"Alastair has the No. 1 quality that anyone needs to get better quickly," Moores said. "And that is humility. When he's been successful, he still wants to get better and learn. Now as long as he is in that position - and I can't see it ever changing - he is going to grow quickly.

"One person doesn't change an environment, so credit goes to everyone involved. That includes the coaches, like assistant Paul Farbrace and fast-bowling coach David Saker, but it's mainly about the players.

"They come under pressure during the Tests. But led by Alastair Cook, how they have handled themselves has a huge effect on each other. We've seen all through the summer young and less experienced players coming in and doing well at different times, which is great. In the second half we've seen the merging of a team where the senior and the less experienced players have come together to find a way of playing and create some pressure on the opposition.

"It's too early to say that this is going to be our Ashes XI. But we are very pleased with their development as a team. With the XI we have at the moment, we have forged a very tight bond and a way of playing.

"I don't expect anyone to write us up as the best in the world. We're still at the start of the journey."

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Francis on August 20, 2014, 13:56 GMT

    Peter Moores' coaching career has more ups and downs than the Himalayas. A first County Championship title for Sussex, dismissal as England coach, Lancashire's first outright Championship title since 1934, followed by relegation, followed by promotion and back to England. What on earth next?

  • Anthony on August 20, 2014, 12:21 GMT

    A remarkable and pleasing turnaround by England. Many wonder whether India should be playing 5-Test matches but more to the point is should they be playing 3-day Test matches, after their pre- tour hype and dismal performance in the last three tests of the so called best batting line-up in the cricketing world.

  • David on August 20, 2014, 11:06 GMT

    A good, well-drilled county side could have beaten India in those last 3 tests, and that's probably the reason England succeeded. But they are never going to be better than that under Moores, whom I'm still not convinced has the right brain to succeed at international level. Sterner tests await, and sadly we may be about to discover that India's recent ineptitude has simply created a false dawn.

  • Khehla on August 20, 2014, 6:43 GMT

    Landl comments on "young England" have been consistent, kudos for that. In 2011, England were talking of legacies, dominating for 10 years and the like Landl harped on about how young that England team was, and that SA were dependent on their stars. England as a team were stronger he'd say even though they hadn't played SA. Aus & India were poor, and rest weren't even contenders. SA tour of Eng, he continues Anderson is as good as Steyn. That busted some myths but some perpetuate obviously.. I wonder could it be that the other teams have older squads because the domestic competition is tougher and didn't get the chance to play int. cricket when they were younger?

  • Hamish on August 19, 2014, 14:21 GMT

    @paj1952: England have won several test match series in Australia. When did India last achieve that?

  • Hamish on August 19, 2014, 14:00 GMT

    @Abaa: Sri lanka drew one test with England and if it wasn't for a mistake Anderson made when there were two balls to go in the second it would have been a drawn series. The England/Sri Lanka tests were contested by two pathetic teams. The only difference was that Sri Lanka was ever so slightly less pathetic than England. Try remembering the FACTS of the situation and please avoid applying the worst of tabloid journalism's approaches to create your own misleading, if tenuousy accurate headlines. This England set up has now turned a corner and having tasted success three times in a row they are learning how to win. A good start I say old bean.

  • Peter on August 19, 2014, 13:57 GMT

    Hold on! England like India and the other top five test teams with the minor exception of Australia are strictly regional teams winning at home under favorable conditions with a slew of bowlers to choose from. Let's see them do it in Australia, India, or South Africa. If I was Cook I would feel to comfortable, the swords are still drawn.

  • Dummy4 on August 19, 2014, 11:43 GMT

    why plp appreciate cook and the coach now!!! after one defeat, coach was requested to sack. he was condemned for sitting on the loads balcony.

  • ian on August 19, 2014, 8:03 GMT

    It would be as well for everyone to keep their feet firmly on the floor and, as people are fond of saying these days, not to get ahead of themselves. The Lord's defeat was a point of desperation: England cricket was one test away from implosion. IF India had won at the Ageas Bowl, the fall out would have been incalculable. Since that walk along a crumbling cliff, everything has gone swingingly. Cook's not at all a bad captain. He's got some runs too. Jimmy is peerless in swingling conditions; Moeen is Swann's successor; Ballance & Root are formidable at 3 & 5; the slips can catch flies; Buttler is Gilchrist Mark 2, etc. etc. Certainly, the confidence is back, but let's not forget that India was desperately poor & most damningly, didn't care either. As contests, the last three Tests were an insult to any proper understanding of TC. So let's take the confidence gained in the paddling pool into the breaking waves of proper TC, against proud countries that respect the tradition of it.

  • Suj on August 19, 2014, 7:38 GMT

    @ landl47 - The wins against a hapless Indian team mean nothing. Remember England lost a series to Sri Lanka just over a month ago?

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