Flower's England tenure over
Andy Flower, one of the most successful coaches in England's history, is to leave his position as team director after five years in the job. England suffered a 5-0 whitewashing in Australia earlier this month, losing the Ashes in humiliating fashion, and Flower has now become the chief casualty.
The ECB, in a formal announcement released several hours after the story first broke in the Telegraph, said that Flower had informed the board of his desire to stand down. He will stay on as a selector in the short term and consider taking up an alternative role, most likely at the National Performance Centre in Loughborough, with the ECB keen to retain his services.
Having said in the aftermath of the Test series that he wanted to continue in the role and oversee England's rebuilding, Flower has seemingly given in to a change of heart. In confirming his departure, Flower said he had reached the conclusion that the team director should have responsibility across all formats, a challenge he felt was beyond him.
Paul Downton, England's new managing director, said he was "very disappointed" by Flower's decision. As the defeats in Australia piled up, Flower had received emphatic expressions of support from both the ECB chairman, Giles Clarke, who pronounced that he would be in charge beyond the 2015 World Cup, and chief executive, David Collier, who insisted that England needed stability.
Suggestions that Flower had been forced to stand down were denied by the ECB. Downton, who officially begins in the job on February 1, has been conducting a review of England's disastrous tour, which got worse with defeat in the T20 series, and met with Flower on Thursday.
Downton said: "We respect his decision and the reasons for it but we are keen to keep Andy's experience and outstanding knowledge within the ECB. We are at advanced stages of negotiating a role for Andy within the ECB structure which will best utilise his undoubted skills."
Flower, who took over in 2009, deserves to be recognised as one of England's most successful coaches, even if events in Australia suggested that his natural shelf life was coming to an end. He oversaw England's rise to the No. 1 ranking in all three formats, winning three consecutive Ashes series and the World Twenty20 during his time in charge.
The limited-overs coach, Ashley Giles, is currently in charge of the team and England do not play a Test series until June. The ECB will advertise the job externally but Giles would likely be a frontrunner and he is scheduled to give a press conference on Saturday morning, Australia time. If another candidate were to be appointed, a reunification of the Test and limited-overs coaching roles would threaten Giles' current position.
Reports of a rift with Kevin Pietersen - Flower denied having made an ultimatum about Pietersen's involvement in the team but pointedly did not give the player his backing - had clouded the end of a stormy tour of Australia, during which England's senior players collectively failed to live up to their billing. After the defeat in Melbourne, ESPNcricinfo's George Dobell wrote that Flower's time was up and that it was "highly likely that, sometime over the next few days or weeks... Flower will take the decision to resign".
However, Collier insisted in January, ahead of the fifth Test, that Flower retained the backing of the ECB until 2015.
Flower returned to England after the Ashes and discussions about the way forward with Downton and Alastair Cook, the Test and one-day captain, had been expected to stretch well into February. Instead, Downton will begin the process of identifying Flower's successor.
Should Flower move to the national academy, he would remain in a senior position and exert considerable influence over England's future success. He relinquished control of England's limited-overs teams at the start of 2013, due to the considerable demands of touring, and a full-time role in the UK would enable Flower to spend more time with his young family.
As in 2006-07, a 5-0 Test defeat in Australia has precipitated a change in head coach. Flower, like Duncan Fletcher before him, ends on the lowest of notes but his reign will be remembered as a period of great success. Taking over from Peter Moores, after a damaging internal dispute that also cost Pietersen the captaincy, Flower improved England's fortunes in all three formats.
Flower's England began by winning the 2009 Ashes, then secured a first global limited-overs trophy in the Caribbean, at the 2010 World T20. An historic 3-1 win in Australia - England's first Ashes triumph away from home in 24 years - followed, as Flower and the captain, Andrew Strauss, developed a highly efficient, widely admired partnership. The 4-0 whitewashing of India at home in 2011 took England to No. 1 in the Test rankings, though the next two years produced more fitful success as a slow decay set in.
Defeat against South Africa at home presaged the loss of the top ranking and Strauss' retirement but, in Cook's first series as permanent Test captain, England won in India for the first time since 1984-85. A 3-0 victory over Australia last summer gave England their third consecutive Ashes, a feat not achieved in more than 30 years, but they held the urn for only a few months longer, eviscerated by Australia on a debilitating tour.
Flower's intense, meticulous nature was seen as a strength that became a weakness as England were accused of being increasingly data driven; questions were also asked about the team's relish for the challenge and continued ability to think on their feet.
England's schedule over the next few months consists of short-form cricket, firstly in the West Indies and then at the World T20 in Bangladesh, before Test series against Sri Lanka and India. With changes expected in the playing staff - three debutants were fielded in Sydney - these will be interesting times.
Alan Gardner is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here