Flower plots England's next move
As the England players savoured their lap of honour around The Oval with the Ashes secured, one key figure slipped quietly back into the dressing room. Andy Flower took charge of the side at their lowest ebb in January when the fall-out between Kevin Pietersen and Peter Moores ripped the team apart. Yet eight months later, he was taking the plaudits for forging a unit that produced a performance few thought possible.
Flower, though, didn't want to take the attention away from his players, so shortly after Andrew Strauss picked up the urn he returned to be with his fellow coaches and reflect in his own, quiet, private way. It was fitting because Flower is not one for hyperbole. "It's great, we are very proud of ourselves," he said. "I've learnt a hell of a lot. I don't want to bore you with the details, I'd bore myself, but it's been great fun. It's a great challenge and I'm proud to have been given the responsibility of the position and now we have to move it forward."
The hallmark of Flower's eight-month tenure as coach has been his calmness in the face of a crisis - and there have been a few. His first Test in charge ended with England bowled out for 51 and two weeks ago he had to contend with the embarrassment of Headingley. On each occasion the harsh talking has been done behind closed doors, while in public Flower has always spoken honestly, but with an air of control.
"Leeds was quite a blow. It was a bit of a shock playing like that," he admitted. "But we got together after that game, before we all dispersed, and talked about it. I think we needed to get some closure on that game there and then, before we all disappeared to various parts of the country. The guys had a good look at themselves, and you could see the commitment and determination that they brought to the final Test."
"He's brought a bit of toughness with him," Stuart Broad said after taking his Ashes-defining 5 for 37 on Friday. "You saw that throughout his playing career. To average over 50 as a wicket-keeper batsman was special. He's also a relaxed character, so that can rub off on players. I enjoyed working with him on my batting when he was an assistant coach and he's done a fantastic job since he's taken over."
These traits will serve Flower well in the coming days and months, because now the biggest part of his task is keeping England focused on the task ahead. The early signs are promising as, compared to 2005, the celebrations have been positively muted and they have imminent international fixtures to focus on. Unlike the '05 unit, for which the Ashes success was the final part of a glorious two years, this victory, is a beginning.
"The guys will be fine, watching them last night they were fine," Flower said. "They are pretty mature and they haven't got time to rest on their laurels. We are off the Ireland tomorrow and we will start the hard work again. It's worked out okay. You don't want to go overboard. Three days ago we were bowled out for 300 and if we hadn't bowled them out for 160 in the first dig we would be saying very different things."
When Flower was handed the job on an interim basis for the West Indies tour, England craved some stability. He said he would have to think about taking the role full-time, but when the squad returned from the Caribbean Flower knew, despite the series defeat, that it was a challenge he wanted, having formed a strong bond with Andrew Strauss.
"We knew it would be hard but when I took the job I was thinking about very small chunks of time," he said. "Consolidating things in West Indies was the first thing we had to do. It helps a lot having a leader like Strauss around. He has been a rock around which the team has built innings and also he has shown very strong leadership on and off the field.
"We put down a few guidelines and principles around which we wanted to build the unit in the first instance because there are various steps we want to go through to make us a better team. I don't really want to go through the details but the guys have embraced them."
As Duncan Fletcher did during his reign, Flower has backed his core players when pressure grew for extensive changes. One who responded in style was Broad with his Ashes-winning spell, having reached the mid-point of the series with four wickets to his name, but finished as the leading England striker. Now Flower has to keep Broad's feet on the ground as he is already being anointed the new Flintoff.
"I think he will become a world-class allrounder," Flower said. "Since he came into the England side he has handled himself really well. One of things that stands out for me about Broady is that he is a quite a street-wise young man and the other thing is that he's a very competitive. They are great qualities for a cricketer so I think he is going to be a world-class player. He was a lot to do on his batting, but his bowling has progressed very nicely."
It was clear that Flower was trying to keep a lid on the euphoria, but the pride he felt was evident to see. As the players woke up this morning with sore heads, Flower took himself off for a run along the river Thames. "I needed to get out," he said. "Some of the guys on their way to the office were shouting 'well done' and that sort of stuff. It was brilliant." It's nothing less than he deserved.
Andrew McGlashan is assistant editor of Cricinfo