Australia v England, 5th Test, Sydney, 5th day January 7, 2011

Meticulous Flower helps England bloom

Andy Flower is not a man for the limelight, but that should take nothing away from his enormous contribution to England's first Ashes triumph in Australia in 24 years

One man was noticeable by his absence from the podium as England celebrated their feat of retaining the Ashes in Australia, but perhaps that's because he was already plotting his next step towards world domination. "He's a guy who prefers to lurk in the shadows a bit," said the captain Andrew Strauss of his friend, ally and fellow strategist Andy Flower. "He's not good at smiling for starters, so that would have been a bit of a hindrance."

Despite his preference for keeping a low profile, Flower is sure to be showered with plaudits in the coming weeks. There has been scarcely an aspect of England's Ashes campaign that has been anything less than meticulously thought through - from the identity of the combatants to the preparations for each of the Test matches, which included sneak previews of three of the five venues during England's warm-up period, as well as the decision to send the frontline bowlers to Brisbane a week early, to acclimatise for the most tropical venue of the tour.

But now, as the satisfaction of another job well done sinks in, England's thoughts are already drifting towards the second of their winter's twin peaks - the World Cup in the subcontinent, where their stated aim of becoming the No. 1 side in the world will be tested with the sort of dramatic format switch that the great Australian sides of the 1990s and 2000s used to take in their formidable strides.

As Strauss admitted in the immediate aftermath of victory, there's little time to sit and take stock of one's achievements in this game. He himself learnt that at first hand when part of his first great England team in 2005, which scaled one peak in regaining the Ashes in those emotional scenes at The Oval, only to tumble into the very first crevice on the subsequent tour to Pakistan.

"In the 18 months leading up to 2005 we had had a similar situation where all 11 guys were contributing all the time and that doesn't happen all that often, although you'd love it to," said Strauss. "When it does happen you tend to think, well, we can keep doing this forever, and that is the one hint of caution for us: there are going to be tough times ahead, we are not going to win by an innings every time we play and we have to keep striving to get better because if we don't other teams will pass us."

That is where Flower's groundwork comes into play. It was noticeable on the morning of the final day at Sydney that the ECB media department was working overtime with a flood of press releases - firstly to confirm that the bowling coach David Saker, another key appointment, had signed a three-year contract extension; then to announce that England's bowler of the series, James Anderson, had been awarded a ten-day break to spend time with his new-born daughter ahead of the rest of England's winter.

Such attention to detail may seem trivial, but when taken as a whole it is invaluable - and Strauss was quick to credit Flower for the meticulous nature of the tour. "The vast majority of the work he does is behind closed doors, both in planning, preparation, looking forward, getting practice right. He's not a guy for the limelight.

"The management team is always here an hour before we turn up, making sure practice is going to work as smoothly as possible," added Strauss. "He's not doing this job for accolades; he's doing it because he desperately wants England to improve. When he finally does finish he can look back and say 'I was part of something pretty special'."

Way back in the mists of time, when Kevin Pietersen instigated his infamous coup against Peter Moores, Flower was among the men whom he wished to throw out with the bathwater - precisely because Flower was not the sort of character to seek attention in his role, which at the time was to be loyal to Moores, the man who had appointed him, and quietly learn the coaching ropes after two decades as a top-level player. Pietersen overlooked his qualities, because he was not trying to make himself noticed.

However, since Flower's appointment as England's No. 1 - which happened, to all intents and purposes, at the precise moment that the team crashed to 51 all out in Jamaica - his expertise and quiet authority has captured the attention of the squad. After all, this is a man whose final act in international cricket was to look a murderous dictator in the eye and challenge him to change. After that black-armband protest against Robert Mugabe at the 2003 World Cup, perspective is automatically leant to any sporting achievement.

"He's been immense. He's been incredible," said Strauss. "Andy Flower is a guy we all respect a lot for what he's achieved and how he holds himself in the dressing room. Often you can't describe what he brings to the side, because it's just a multitude of little things. Little conversations he has with people, little thoughts he puts onto paper that he actually puts into practice. The way he works with the backroom staff is as good as I've seen in county and international cricket."

Flower took his undoubted ability as a batsman and wicketkeeper, and allied it to an unbreakable will to turn himself into the world's No. 1-ranked batsman, which was no mean feat for a player whose daily duty in the Zimbabwe side was to steel himself for yet another defeat - 34 in 63 Tests all told, despite his own world-class average of 51.54. That quest for self-improvement is a hallmark of the England squad that he has helped to create, and one of the men who buys into that the most is none other than the captain, Strauss.

"I think the more you do the job, the more you learn the way you interact with people off the pitch, because experience counts for a huge amount," he said of his own captaincy career. "I have been doing the job for a couple of years now and hopefully there is a couple left as well. In that sense I am excited about what we can achieve going forward. For the bowlers to bowl like they did, day-in day-out over five Tests is an exceptional effort. We have good depth and we will need it as the schedule is tough and we are going to get injuries.

"We've had an amazing two months since we got here but we've already said we want to improve, that's one of our team ethoses," said Alastair Cook, whose own partnership with Flower grew in stature during his spell as captain in Bangladesh, and whose tally of 766 runs was the outstanding performance of the Ashes.

"He won't let us have an easy time. He will demand that we get better and better. That will hold us in good stead," Cook added. "Whether I can achieve again what I've achieved here, it would be amazing. I honestly cannot believe what I've just done, and the team as well. I think we'll sit here and enjoy today then worry about tomorrow, tomorrow."

Flower, however, will worry about tomorrow today. That's what it takes to attain greatness.

Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo.

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Philip on January 8, 2011, 21:31 GMT

    I like Flower, always have liked what he does. If he didn't hop up on the podium, good on him. Coaches, like parents, should be not seen and not heard. Congratulations always belongs to the players. The warm inner glow from seeing your charges do well seems enough for Flower, as it should be.

  • paul on January 8, 2011, 11:08 GMT

    Look at all these sub continent posters, trying their best to tell themselves Swann isn't all that, he did a great job for England and won them a test. You all seem quick to jump all over him, but how have other spinners done in Oz, a lot worse than Swann, apart from that in a couple of innings he hardly bowled because the seamers took Oz apart, when you beat a team 3 times by over a innings, your spinner isn't going to be required to do much and when he was he came up trumps. @Arjun Calidas If you think teams stay the same and don't improve you seem to be living in the pastas well as coming off as incredibly arrogant. India hardly squeezed past Oz a couple of months ago in your own back yard, the very same team England took to bits, that's got a bit more relevance than what happened 3 years ago, but hey, whatever keeps your insecurities in check, all the other Indian posters who have trolled these Ashes boards you seem to spend most of your time trying to convince yourselves.

  • Dummy4 on January 8, 2011, 6:04 GMT

    WOW this WC is gonna rock. Definitely not AUS this time but you never know. PAK you can never say. IND in their home ground. SAF have some wonderful odi players now. ENG look good right now but we never know until they play. SRI looks good. BAN may have few surprises. The only worries are NZ and WIN because even ZIM is pushing hard. IRE is good in their own way. i have a feeling NZ and WIN are going out in 1st round.

  • mahjut on January 8, 2011, 3:19 GMT

    first with SUNDOS: Tsotsobe hit between 82/5 mph pretty regularly (Parnell the same) which was more than Khan. They do need a spinner and are developing some and gaining one by default. The_Frame: England do have an organised attack with the luxury of a decent spinner but Flintoff was a "major player" and they not only survived it but Flowered...Yotta: it is only "apparent", not real. this SA side is a good one with belief it's just not quite good enough to consistently beat everyone (no current team is)- it may not be of the Waugh's Oz team's standards but it's better than other teams of that era, England and India are too. comparing backwards is disingenuous - did Waugh's team ever reach the abilities of Lloyd's? maybe!? Arjun: SA have been #1 already and in their last 11 series 6 have been away (on all continents) and only 1 series lost since 2006. In India's last 11, they've lost only 1 series (3 since 2006), but only been out of the subcontinent twice.

  • Dummy4 on January 8, 2011, 1:38 GMT

    Swann is an average bowler because, even if he was not the top spinner in the world back in 2008-09, he could have supported the quicks to dismiss India under the mammoth 387.. In all he has taken wickets against Bangladesh, Pakistan, South Africa and Australia.. Bangladesh, some say should not be there.. Let us not talk about the Pakistani affair here.. As for SA and Australia, they've never played spin very well apart from a very few players like the Waugh Brothers or Martyn...

  • Dummy4 on January 7, 2011, 22:38 GMT

    Rickoshay you say Swan is an average bowler,really how have you worked that out.Swans art in australia was containment, and scuffing the ball up for the English quicks. Something that Australia hasn't worked out yet. How many wickets did the Aussies spinners take.

  • mahendra on January 7, 2011, 21:38 GMT

    I have aiways have the greatest respect for Flower , To me he is one of the best batsmen ever . If you could put Flower into the' Great Aussie team ', he would have scored many more runs than Ponting. Now he is shareing his brilliance with the ECB . Lucky , Lucky England . Please look after him .

  • Rick on January 7, 2011, 21:26 GMT

    I would be careful putting Flower on a pedestal just yet. The 4th best side in the world (pre series) beat the 5th best side in the world away from home. Not too much of a surprise. I dont see England beating Sri Lanka or India away from home right now. Graeme Swann has been shown up for the average bowler that he is. 15 wickets in ten innings says it all.

  • Michael on January 7, 2011, 17:58 GMT

    Flower is great, He just says it as it is. No B/S.

  • Dummy4 on January 7, 2011, 15:54 GMT

    Never ever bring in India in comparison with this English team.. The English team has, no doubt put in mammoth performances over the past year, but India too has put in such efforts over a period of two and a half years.. India has not lost a test series in over two and a half years, the last being the one in Sri Lanka in 2008.. Also India is the only team to have challenged the might of the Australians in their heyday.. In the past decade, India has lost only two of their home series, while England has lost against the Aussies, Saffers and the Indians.. Also they have not won a series against India, home or away since 1996 (Ganguly and Dravid debut series).. On the other hand, India has won thrice and drawn twice against them.. These statistics make India the obviously better team.. And please remember the one-day drubbing they got against the Aussies last year and before that the Indians.. They along with South Africa will be the eternal challengers and never the champions!!!

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