Australia v England, 2nd Test, Adelaide, 4th day December 8, 2013

Can England Flower again?

England's second-innings resistance should not mask the need for change in the team; the only question is whether Andy Flower is the man to lead it

Had a wedge-tailed eagle settled on top of the England dressing room ready to pick at the carcass of the team, the signs could not have been more obvious: for much of this match England have looked spent, broken and shattered. For the Ashes, at least, the party is over, the song is sung, the jig is up.

Statisticians will tell you that England can still win this series. But statistics also suggest the average person has one breast and one testicle. You have to be a bit careful with stats. The unavoidable impression you have when you look into the eyes of several of this England team is that the belief has gone. It followed the fun out of the dressing room door.

England were actually quite a lot better on day four of this match than they had been on the previous three. They fought, they applied themselves and they utilised a pitch that remains slow and decent for batting, to register their highest score of the series. But the Titanic probably bounced a little when it hit the ocean floor: it wasn't cause for celebrations on the poop deck.

Still, their increased resilience did provide a reminder - if any were required - that many of these players remain more than capable of prospering at this level. England may require a period of reflection and rebuilding, but there is no need to throw away all the blocks of their fairly recent success.

Kevin Pietersen provided just the contribution England required from their senior pro. Refusing to be lured into the trap set for him at midwicket, he played admirably straight and allowed himself time to build an innings. He made a point of playing those straight deliverers he has been flicking to midwicket to cover and he pulled out of hook strokes despite getting into position to play them. It was just the sort of restrained effort he should have made in the first innings.

More than that, he supported Joe Root through some flighty moments and, when he felt the sledging of his young partner was becoming too much, he stepped in to ensure the focus shifted on to him. Eventually Peter Siddle exposed a technical flaw - it was the ninth time Siddle had dismissed him in Test cricket - but there could be no faulting the effort.

Root showed courage, application and a strong technique in compiling what may well have been the best innings of his career to date. He flirted outside off stump a few times and still looks far more comfortable on this sort of slow track than the one he may encounter in Perth. But he is 23 and learning his trade. This was an innings that largely vindicated Andy Flower's continuing faith in him as top-three Test batsman.

But what of Flower? He has been, without much doubt, the best coach England have had. He has led the team to, in England's relatively modest terms, a golden age that has included periods at No. 1 in the rankings in all three formats, a first global limited-overs trophy - the World T20 in the Caribbean in 2010 - and Test series wins in Australia and India. If that sounds modest to people in the Caribbean and Australia - who enjoyed sustained periods of success - you have to recall what life used to be like for England supporters. It was grim. It was relentlessly grim. Flower, from an England perspective, deserves the moon on a stick.

But can Flower do it again? Does he have the appetite or the wherewithal to stoop and rebuild with worn-out tools? There is little doubt that he will be given the opportunity by the ECB if he wants it - it seems unlikely that Paul Downton's first decision as new MD of England cricket will be to sack a coach with Flower's track record - but is he the man to reinvigorate a dressing room that may need a little less stick and a little more carrot?

It is worth reflecting on the side England selected when Flower first led them to Ashes victory at The Oval in 2009. It has changed remarkably little. Indeed, his first choice side would contain eight or nine players who were first choice then. Pietersen, who was injured, would be in and Jonathan Trott, who is absent now, would be in. Tim Bresnan also made his debut that summer.

But it is the absentees who are most interesting. Since that Test in 2009, England have lost Andrew Strauss as opener, Paul Collingwood in the middle order and a third seamer, who in that game was Steve Harmison. None of them have been adequately replaced. Since Trott came into the side, England have handed debuts to more than a dozen players and perhaps only one - Joe Root - has seized his chance. Flower has many skills, but building from scratch is not one of them.

It also seems legitimate to ask about the success of England's much-vaunted - and tremendously expensive - academy and development systems. For all the time and money invested in them, is the number of players coming through the system much increased or improved from the days England simply relied on the counties? Of course, the best facilities and extra development tours are of benefit but, here we are 10 years in, and where are the potential replacements for Graeme Swann and Pietersen, James Anderson and Trott?

There are doubts about the atmosphere in the England dressing room. While a coterie of experienced players have formed a tight bond - the likes of Alastair Cook, Anderson, Swann and Stuart Broad - is the England environment as welcoming and conducive to fearless cricket as it should be? Some of those who have been in that dressing room talk of a stifling atmosphere. They talk of tension and fear and cliques. Perhaps they were the ones at fault; or perhaps it really wasn't so easy being Pietersen in there for a while.

It might rain on the last scheduled day of this game. The Test could be drawn. The series even. It seems unlikely, but England could escape. Then they could, in their own conditions, flourish in series to follow against Sri Lanka and India. They could kid themselves into thinking that nothing needs to change.

But that should not - must not - mask the evidence of what we have seen in this series to date. England have a serious issue against pace, are over-reliant on a few individuals and are no longer performing at anywhere near the level they once did. Change is necessary.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Michael on December 11, 2013, 19:56 GMT

    Englands problem lies in their batting which has failed them so far. As for Andy Flower, he hasn't a clue outside of english wickets and what amazes me is he has an aussie born opener currently scoring centuries on the EPP tour and can't get a look in. He is a perfect replacement for Carberry who at the moment can't stand the heat and has failed so far on this tour.

  • Clifford on December 9, 2013, 20:31 GMT

    You're an excellent writer Mr. Dobell. I've been reading some of your articles and the assessments seem to be spot on, in that they agree with my own. And. I am rarely ever wrong :). Think you need to make contact with Andy Flower, Sir, he appears to need your analytical skills.

  • a on December 9, 2013, 16:18 GMT

    Much better than your previous piece George. Other than Root nothing has been learnt about filling with quality the last few remaining slots and the remaining squad spots for the tests. Bopara, Morgan and Patel are all essentially largely failed experiments in tests. Finn has gone backwards (just needs his run up sorting out to get through the crease). Then as you say several retirements on the horizon in next couple of years. And what have we got coming up to fill? Carberry and Onions should slot in for the short term, Stokes as at least a squad player with potential and same for Rankin. All the rest untried (Ballance, Robson, Ali) or partially tried and not yet successful (Taylor, Woakes, Bairstow). Get lots of them into the ODI team at least so we can find out a bit more about character and give them exposure

  • Vijay on December 9, 2013, 15:38 GMT

    Nothing goes wrong for England when one of the 3 top order slams a big hundred..Just a matter of one BIG innings which I think is due in Perth will make a lot of difference..Yes, Eng need to handle Johnson with care and they need to see of him, Harris and Siddle in the first 2 hrs..Play traditional way and see of the sledging.. Once once of Top 3 fires , KP and Bell can play big too and that makes life tough for the Aussies..

  • Scott on December 9, 2013, 14:30 GMT

    @jmcilhinney, Actually, he's not. Pattinson was regularly bowling at 90mph and Cummins is possibly the quickest of the lot and is seriously rapid.

  • Naveed on December 9, 2013, 11:51 GMT

    the problem with england is the planning. reminds me of a cash grant (is this Freudian) given to a professor to discover the most optimal timings for a particular bus route. the good professor turned up 3 years later, having enjoyed the cash and the idyl of university campuses with a bunch of stats, normal distributions and all. sadly, unaware that the bus route was changing.....moral, stats and plans aren't they spent all the prep being bounced by tymal mills and all, only to be told not to hook and pull.....let root do 3, bell ain't up to it, momentum is with root, carbs and cook just need one stand, ideally next game, come on boys!!!!!!!!!!!!!take a leaf out of athertons book, mind of matter for a while, runs will come!

  • kieran on December 9, 2013, 11:01 GMT

    @xtrafalgarx, I was sure he was capable but just couldn't remember any specific spells. Still, he's not as consistently quick as Johnson or Cummins.

  • James on December 9, 2013, 10:11 GMT

    @HatsforBats: India first test, Pattinson bowled Murali Vijay with a 150khp yorker, search it up.

  • Robin on December 9, 2013, 9:07 GMT

    If you are looking for replacements for Trott and Pietersen - just look to acquire new ones from SA. Jokes aside. The real reason for England's demise is that much like India they have risen on the back of homeground performance. India outside of India is terrible - just look at what has happened to them in SA now.

    If England want to play with the rest of the world they need to leave the Duke ball alone and play with a Kookaburra. Only in England with a Duke ball do they seem to be anything special.

  • D on December 9, 2013, 7:00 GMT

    I can understand that a lot of us Aus fans truly want this to be the 'changing of the guard' and also the decline of England.

    We are, understandably so, using not just the overall outcomes in these first two tests but the nature of them (i.e. absolute hidings) to justify these sentiments.

    Now I, along with a great many diehard Aus supporters, chirped these forums heavily during this test. The crop of English fans that magically appeared on these forums in 2005, disappeared in 06/07, and then reappeared again meant that I had no issue with a bit of impassioned banter.

    It was also pleasing to flat out call out those English fans who hound these forums to the point whereby they have a thousand profiles satirising their baseless comments. It has been fun to watch them have to pretend the things they said after day 1 of each test didn't happen, to watch them squirm and split hairs over an increasingly less sensible series of issues (e.g. the coin toss).

    But England will be back.

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