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Andy Flower has been the best coach England have had but the environment he created has led to 5-0
George Dobell at the SCG
January 5, 2014
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Did clay grow tall for this? Was English cricket restructured, repackaged and refinanced for this? Was the result of the Schofield report following England's 5-0 thrashing in 2006-07 simply a smokescreen or diversionary tactic? Did the England team win a significant pay rise only weeks before this tour started for this?
There have been many bleak moments in the history of English cricket. There have been thrashings at the hands of the West Indies, defeats against Holland, Ireland, Zimbabwe and Bangladesh and two previous Ashes whitewashes.
But this may be a new nadir. For a team who, not so long ago, talked of leaving a legacy in world cricket to be bowled out within 32 overs to seal a 5-0 defeat may just represent the bleakest moment of the lot. An England team that arrived in Australia with realistic hopes of clinching their fourth successive Ashes success will leave broken and humiliated. An England team that included Jonathan Trott, Matt Prior, Graeme Swann and Joe Root at the start of the series, finished without any of them. Not since 1984 has an England side lost five successive Tests by margins in excess of 100 runs or eight wickets.
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There is some mitigation. Most pertinently, Australia's seam attack performed magnificently. Mitchell Johnson, Ryan Harris and Peter Siddle performed at a level that bears comparisons with some of the best bowling trios in history. Not only did they hardly deliver a poor spell between them, they went for long periods without delivering a poor ball. The pressure they built up on the England order would have cracked many teams.
England might have cause to reflect on their schedule, too. Several players arrived on this tour looking noticeably jaded and below their best. No batsman in world cricket has faced as many deliveries as Alastair Cook since the start of the 2010-11 Ashes; no bowling unit had bowled as much as James Anderson, Swann and Stuart Broad. England were exhausted before they began.
There are a couple of areas of encouragement, too. Broad bowled with pace, skill and stamina throughout - not least in Melbourne where he shrugged off a badly bruised foot - while Ben Stokes might be the allrounder England have been crying out for to balance their side.
But in general, this England regime has been extended every advantage. They have central contracts, academies, development tours, an army of support staff that might as well include a topiarist, vast investment and a control over the schedule, both home and away, of which previous management could only dream. If there have been issues with preparation or selection on this tour, it is because the England management made them. There can be no excuses.
There have certainly been mistakes. It was a mistake to bring three tall fast bowlers on tour - all of them endured a miserable trip - it was a mistake to drop Nick Compton before the previous Ashes series - England have not scored 400 since Compton last made a century for them - and it was a mistake to omit Graham Onions.
The selectors may well reflect on the inclusion of Jonny Bairstow as reserve wicketkeeper and the call-up of Scott Borthwick as replacement spin bowler, too. They could not have predicted the breakdown of Trott or the retirement of Swann but they should have been able to foresee Chris Tremlett's lack of pace, Steven Finn's struggles with rhythm and the lack of cover at the top of the order.
There were some obvious contrasts between the sides throughout the series. While Michael Clarke celebrated the "comfortable environment" in which his team operated, while their coach encouraged the team to enjoy their work, to relax and revel in the atmosphere of an Ashes series - the series that every member of their side should have dreamed of playing in since the moment they discovered the joys of this great game - the England team moped around as if they had been asked to defuse bombs while discovering a new energy source and a lasting peace in the Middle East.
It may be worth reflecting on how quickly things can change. Not so long ago, Australia were whitewashed in a series by India. They have recovered with largely the same group of players - the return to form of Johnson is clearly crucial - but with a change of coach. Simply by changing the coach, they changed the environment in which the team operated and, in time, the results followed. Gone were the homework assignments from Mickey Arthur and in came 'joke of the day' from Darren Lehmann. It sounds small, but it represents much.
There is an obvious lesson here for England. The current team have experienced too much work and not enough play. They have experienced too much stick and not enough carrot. They have experienced too much of one thing for too long. The batting coach has failed to coax runs from the side, the bowling coach has failed to develop some talented young bowlers and the fielding coach has failed to prevent some awful errors. None can reflect on a successful tour.
It is anticipated that Andy Flower will request the full backing of the ECB before taking any decisions over his future. It is anticipated he will request full control of the team, the support staff and a final say in selection. It is anticipated that he will ask for full power so that he can take full responsibility. It is probably the only way things can be.
But that is not so different to how things are now. Short of offering Flower an invisibility cloak and a license to kill, he has been extended every advantage the ECB can offer already. And it has culminated in a 5-0 defeat.
Flower has been, without much doubt, the best cricket coach England have had. But unless he can reinvent himself and find another method, it is hard to see how he can continue.
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfoFeeds: George Dobell
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