England news January 31, 2014

Time right for Flower to let go

Andy Flower was an exceptional coach and leader but his grip on the team had become too tight - England need refreshing

If ever confirmation was required that an age has ended in English cricket, it comes with the news that Andy Flower has resigned as England's team director.

Flower has been an exceptional leader of the England team. Appointed with the side in disarray at the start of 2009 - his predecessor, Peter Moores, and the captain, Kevin Pietersen, had just been sacked and, in his first game as stand-in coach, England were bowled out for just 51 - he oversaw victory in three successive Ashes series, home and away Test series over India, a first global limited-overs trophy and periods at the top of the rankings in all three formats. By England standards, it has perhaps never been so good.

But, just like politics, nearly all sporting careers end in failure. If they didn't, they wouldn't end. Flower is now discovering that, like Duncan Fletcher, cricket coaches have a shelf life. After a while, one voice and one message doesn't just reinforce, it limits and confines.

Flower was a breath of fresh air for England cricket. His prowess as a player, when he was once rated the best Test batsman in the world, and his track record as a man - his black armband demonstration in Zimbabwe marked him out as an individual of courage and honour - ensured he had the complete respect of his charges. It had not been the case for Moores.

And, in those first couple of years, Flower's attributes took England to new heights in their relatively modest history. Building on foundations set by Moores - it was, after all, Moores that backed Graeme Swann, James Anderson and Matt Prior - Flower embraced modern technology, greater emphasis on fitness, planning and an excuse-free culture that dragged England into the modern age. He demanded England improved. He stuck with players he rated and he instilled a hard, patient style of cricket that demanded much of his charges but fitted a relatively fresh team hungry for success.

But somewhere along the way, all those qualities that made him so ideal for that period in English cricket have become part of the problem. His determination became dogged. His loyalty became stubborn. The respect in which he was held veered towards fear. His tactics exhausted a four-man attack and batsmen relying more on concentration than flair. His intensity, his attention to detail and his demanding personality started to inhibit England.

Some members of the England set-up started to express concerns about the team environment long before the end of the Ashes tour, even as England were beating Australia 3-0 at home

It left them weary, tense, joyless and burdened with fear and pressure. The attention to detail that saw England produce an 80-page cookbook - fine in its own right - also saw them stop playing football or touch rugby in warm-up. There was too much science and not enough fun.

This news should not come as a surprise. Some members of the England set-up started to express concerns about the team environment long before the end of the Ashes tour. Indeed, some raised concerns even as England were winning the Ashes 3-0 at home.

History will remember Flower fondly, but England need refreshing. They need to rediscover their joy in playing the game. They need a change. Flower was the perfect man a few years ago but, given too much power and surrounded by several coaches who did little to lift the mood - Graham Gooch was the man who pushed David Gower out of international cricket, remember - the England environment simply stopped bringing the best out of players.

Instead it left several new faces - the likes of Simon Kerrigan and Boyd Rankin - obviously overawed and others - Jonathan Trott and even Alastair Cook - burned out.

Ashley Giles will be the overwhelming favourite to replace Flower, though advertising the appointment openly could do no harm. Giles might, in many ways, be seen as Flower-lite: he has a softer touch, a more flexible approach and presides over a less intense dressing room. It may be relevant that Giles also retains a close, respectful relationship with Kevin Pietersen, whose faith in Flower appeared to have diminished.

Whether England need evolution or revolution is debatable, but Giles has, to date, been obliged to steer with a back-seat driver in Flower reluctant to release his grasp on the wheel. Whether this episode has repercussions for Cook and Pietersen remains to be seen, but there are those within the ECB who remain unimpressed with Pietersen, in particular.

It seems safe to conclude that Paul Downton will not shy away from tough situations. This episode marks a bold start to his period as managing director of England cricket. He was not officially meant to take office until February 1 but he has already ignored the (premature) assurances of David Collier, his chief executive, that Flower would oversee England into 2015 and shaken up a regime with a fine long-term track record but unavoidable signs of decline. They are the qualities that rendered Downton a success in the City of London and bode well for England's future.

Flower should leave the post with his head held high and with a nation grateful for his outstanding contribution. But that does not mean this is the wrong decision.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • philip on February 2, 2014, 5:45 GMT

    Great article and important observation about Gooch pushing Gower out. Flower tried to push Pietersen out but fortunately it looks as thought this generations best batsman will stay. So sad It wasnt Gooch that went instead of Gower back then...... Gooch has been an awful batting coach really, the 2010-11 peak was just coinciding with a confident team. He hasnt even been able to help out Cook. And its funny how people overlook his touring of South Africa and picking and choosing which series to play in. Nowhere near as patriotic as he likes to make out. We need someone with a real passion for England. Bring in Collingwood, he's been the missing ingredient. Tough but a real love for the game and able to get on with the characters like Flintoff and Pietersen as well as the more introverted types like Cook and Bell.

  • Dummy4 on February 1, 2014, 14:47 GMT

    The beauty about this loss is that they lost to sheer pace. Johnson started it and England crumbled. So that leads to another question. India is supposed to be afraid of pace. But India did better in their losses than England. India should have won in SA at the wanderer s and in a few ODIs too. But England were blown away. They are not known for a weakness when playing the fast men. So can we conclude that when teams prepare and adapt well, they win? When England beat India in India I thought that they would dominate like the Aussies and wi. The English are taller and bigger than Indians. So they should have played bounce and pace easily.

  • David on February 1, 2014, 14:05 GMT

    It's a shame - Flower could well be remembered as England's best ever coach. Perhaps he became too robotic in the end. England's players also have to take some of the responsibility: they threw in the towel much too quickly in Australia. If English cricket is now to be spared mediocre, they would do well to advertise for the position of coach, and find another top-notcher from overseas. Don't just promote Ashley Giles, because he's a good bloke and has all the right coaching badges.

  • Asad on February 1, 2014, 11:48 GMT

    already got rid off swann, trott and prior, time for cook and some others to go. Players like james taylor who work hard to average 50+ per season need to be looked at, joe root is another player who has ability but is just out of form and should be given a break. test team in the future: Joe Root, Moeen Ali, James Taylor, Gary Ballance/ Johnny Bairstow, Eion Morgan(c), Ben Stokes, Jos Butler, Stuart Broad, Ajmal Shezad, Steven Finn, Simon Kerrigan. Bang!

  • Dummy4 on February 1, 2014, 10:45 GMT

    Looking back over the Flower era, the big problem has been a lack of new players settling in to the Test side. It is particularly notable that the side that played at Adelaide had only three changes from the Mohali Test under Moores, all three had retired. Only Trott has really settled of the players who've debuted under Flower. Most players who've come in to the side under Flower, debut or returning, have had a better than even chance of be out after three Tests and about a third have lasted only 1. The players who've been in the preferred group have barely missed a match, meaning that in some ways this has been the most consistent period of English selection in history. This would be fine if they were doing well, as they were between 2009 and 2011, but none of these batsmen with a guaranteed place has averaged over 40 in the period since the end of the India series in 2011 and only Broad of the 'in' bowlers averages under 30 in that period.

  • Peter on February 1, 2014, 10:25 GMT

    One of the worst performances of all time - a whitewash - no a complete bleaching by an average team in all 3 forms of the game.

    Not only the coach but several of the English "passengers" in their team must go. Swann saw the writing on the wall - credit to him. There are others that must go post haste if England are to get back to being beat by Australia rather than totally stuffed

  • Dummy4 on February 1, 2014, 10:16 GMT

    The possible appointment of Giles to "coach/manage" teams for all three formats says it all and confirms yet again how the ECB just do not have the first idea. After all isn't Giles the same person whose last 7 games has resulted in 6 losses and a win percenteage of 14.3% ? Hopefully Downton will not be persuaded.

  • Nadarajah on February 1, 2014, 9:56 GMT

    Time was right for AF to go, even though he was the most successful manager for England Cricket. But England needed a change at the top, after the most humiliating Ashes defeat. Look at the margin of defeat on all the tests. Heavy defeats on all. Any new coach will do better than the current status as England can only go up. Englands best batsman KP needed in the team in all formats.

  • John on February 1, 2014, 9:13 GMT

    It's tough at the top. Showered with praise one minute then ushered out the door the next. I don't think things were all that bad. His hindsight record will only include one bad series. Hopefully, Giles will do the trick. Cricket needs a strong England. Hey, if he doesn't work out, Greg Chappell would probably be delighted to assume the role.

  • Cricinfouser on February 1, 2014, 8:55 GMT

    Tedious rehash of some worn out clichés. Flower took over a team on the up, despite all the off field noise surrounding Moores, and eventually presided over it's inevitable decline. Flower the 'exceptional leader' or the joyless control freak are just caricatures peddled by journalists obsessed with coaches and personalities and lacking the ability to analyse the players and the game in any depth. I just wish that those filling column inches with their critiques of Flower had the humility to read some of their adulatory pieces from late 2011. This one would be a good starting point. http://www.espncricinfo.com/greatestteams/content/story/538999.html.

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