England news November 28, 2012

Schedule flogging England's best

England have lost the full-time services of the best coach they have ever had through an unsustainable fixture calender. Andy Flower may not be the last casualty

A relentless schedule that is incompatible with family life has persuaded Andy Flower to relinquish at least part of his role at the helm of the England cricket team. While Flower will remain accountable for all teams and will continue to travel with the Test side, Ashley Giles will be responsible for the day-to-day management of the limited-overs sides.

Flower, a married man with school age children, could no longer justify the sacrifice of personal life for professional success. With no end in sight to the demands the ECB places upon its employees, Flower has become the most obvious casualty of an unsustainable fixture list that is flogging all concerned into early retirement or mediocrity; a fixture list that has now seen the partial loss of the most successful cricket coach England have ever had.

The recent form of Stuart Broad, one of the few men to play in all formats of the game, should also sound a warning to the ECB.

It takes only a glance at England's fixture list to see the problem. From the moment they departed for Sri Lanka and the World T20 in September, Flower has been in demand. After a couple of weeks in England, the team departed for Dubai and then India. But for a nine-day break over Christmas, those involved in all three formats will not be home until the end of March. In between all that, there are training camps, selection meetings, planning meetings, media requirements and sponsors' events. It is remorseless.

Nor is there any end in sight. Next summer will see England play another Test series against New Zealand, an Ashes series and host the ICC Champions Trophy. Then there are various ODI and T20 series. And, well before the end of October, the squad depart for an Ashes tour that lasts until the end of January. Within three or four weeks of its end, they depart for the Caribbean and, before the next English season, have to fit in the World T20 in Bangladesh.

It is easy to criticise the ECB for underplaying its duty of care towards its employees, but it is less easy to find a solution. The business model of the English game relies heavily on broadcast revenues that can only be maintained by guaranteeing huge amounts of cricket. Much of the money has been well spent: in grass roots cricket; in disability cricket and in women's cricket.

While some - mostly those with an agenda - will blame the counties' financial demands, the truth is that the national side - its salaries, its costs and its support structures - represents the most significant increase in expenditure in recent years. The only way to keep players out of the clutches of T20 leagues - rebel or authorised - is to pay them handsomely. And to pay them handsomely, they must fulfil the broadcasters' requirements.

Obvious concerns remain. Will the coaches be able to work together; what happens to the support staff; does Andy Flower's new role impinge on Hugh Morris?

Flower relinquishes control of England's limited-overs sides with a record of which he can be proud. Most tangibly, he led England to the 2010 World T20 title - the only global trophy they have ever won - and, less tangibly, to No. 1 in the ODI and T20 rankings. It will smart him to leave after poor displays at both the 2011 World Cup and the 2012 World T20 as England failed to do themselves justice in either competition. But their ODI cricket, in particular, has improved drastically in recent months.

But the work of any man will mean nothing if it comes at the cost of his family. Flower, after four years containing far more highs than lows, has decided - quite rightly - that his priorities must lie at home. The demands of Test tours remain onerous, but the breaks between them at least provide time for rest and recuperation.

It would be stretching a point to suggest that the Kevin Pietersen episode has claimed another victim. But it cannot have helped. Perhaps there is a certain irony, too, in the fact that Flower will now enjoy some of the rest that Pietersen claimed he wanted when his limited-overs retirement was announced.

The promotion of Giles is not unexpected and he has been appointed without consideration of other candidates. That says much about his qualification for the role - he should command the respect of the side for his record as a successful player at international level and a coach at domestic level. It also conveys the fact that he has been viewed as part of the England team establishment virtually since his debut as an international player in 1997. He is seen, by the England team management, very much as "one of us" and he remains a selector, albeit presumably a selector with more influence than before.

The sceptics will point out that his record as coach in T20, in particular, is not the best. But he inherited a failing club when he took over at Edgbaston at the end of 2007 and has impressed as a coach, a man manager and a spotter and developer of talent.

Warwickshire have improved in all areas and, apart from winning the Championship title in 2012, he also led them to the CB40 trophy in 2010. Besides, his Warwickshire team has been blessed with players, the likes of Chris Woakes, Rikki Clarke, Keith Barker and Boyd Rankin, who are much better red ball than white ball cricketers and, at county level, the Championship remains the priority. A man who has experienced the extremes of success and failure in sport, he will remain calm in the face of adversity and offers, as much as is possible, a like-for-like replacement for Flower.

Obvious concerns remain. Will the two coaches be able to work together; who has the final say if there is a disagreement; what happens to the support staff; does Andy Flower's role as England team director impinge on Hugh Morris' as managing director of England?

But England have navigated such choppy waters before. They managed with separate captains for the three formats of the game without conflict or complication. By choosing characters they know and trust, characters they know have the best interests of the team at heart, they have reacted to an imperfect situation with an imperfect solution. But it may well prove as good as any they could have found.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

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