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March 11, 2013
England overseas: shall we skip the first Test?
Andy Flower, the England Test coach, has said he will take a look at his role in the side's continued problems with starting overseas Test series poorly and suggested that he will implement changes for future tours.
England fought back to save the opening match against New Zealand, in Dunedin, but the performance on the second day - being bowled out for 167 and watching the home side reach 131 without loss - was probably their worst start to a Test under Flower.
"If you are asking about a trend, that is certainly something that I should be addressing myself," he said before the team travelled to Wellington. "I have some ideas on rejigging a couple of things in our preparation, in our management team firstly, and we'll see if we can do something about it.
"We always encourage our players to be honest with themselves, and each other. So then we've got to do the same. The coaches have to do that, and I'm the first guy that has to do it."
Since 2004-05, England have only beaten Bangladesh in an opening Test in 2010. Of the away 14 series since they won at Port Elizabeth under Michael Vaughan's captaincy (incidentally having prepared by being hammered by South Africa A), nine have started with a defeat and only in one, against India in Nagpur in 2006, did England take control of a match for any considerable time.
The lack of a sustained warm-up period is often cited as a key reason. Flower has gone to great lengths to ensure the team have high-quality preparation leading into a series, but on this tour that was restricted to one four-day game - albeit against a strong New Zealand XI side. For the Ashes later this year, England will repeat the 2010-11 schedule of three first-class warm-ups before Brisbane.
Flower, obviously, has no control over the strength of opposition for warm-ups and some of the matches during the early stages of the India were of debatable quality, although India's plan to hide top-class spin did not stop them from losing the series. However, he does not believe the poor start in Dunedin can be purely put down to not having more games before the series.
"The way we started this tour, principally in that first innings, has nothing to do with people not having enough cricket," he said. "We've had a reasonable amount of preparation time, and enough to get ready for that first Test. So that is not the reason why we under-performed.
"Am I happy with the preparation for this series? Well, I'm not happy in that we lost the four-day game - we go into those games trying to win them," Flower said. "So that is not a habit we want to keep. We transferred some of the sloppiness that we showed in that four-day game into the Test match."
England finally kicked into gear on the fourth day as they faced a deficit of 293. Alastair Cook and Nick Compton added 231 before further half-centuries from Steven Finn, on his first occasion as the nightwatchman, and Jonathan Trott helped keep New Zealand at bay, although a wobble either side of tea kept the day alive. "We had a long time to bat and, even on flat pitches when you are batting under that type of pressure where a mistake might cost the match, I thought they did an outstanding job," Flower said.
For Compton, though, it was still too early for any assurances over the Ashes with Flower taking a similarly guarded tone to his views on Joe Root. "It was great to see him get the big score he's been after. There are no guarantees about the future for any of us, and the Ashes is still a little way away. So let's just take it one step at a time."
He also gave a strong hint that he does not want Cook to always be the man to have set the tone at the top of the order after the captain scored his 24th Test hundred. "He's handled the captaincy very well, and has also led from the front with the bat. We need some of our other top-order batsmen to do the same."
Andrew McGlashan is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfoFeeds: Andrew McGlashan
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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