Short-term goals will keep England at top - Flower

Andy Flower says that England will seek to defend their new status as the world's No. 1 Test side by attacking a series of short-term goals, starting with the winter tours of Pakistan and Sri Lanka

Andrew Miller
Andrew Miller
Alastair Cook joins the victorious team huddle, England v India, 3rd Test, Edgbaston, 4th day, August 13, 2011

England will seek to defend their status against Pakistan and Sri Lanka in the winter  •  AFP

Andy Flower says that England will seek to defend their new status as the world's No. 1 Test side by attacking a series of short-term goals, starting with the winter tours of Pakistan and Sri Lanka, as they set about reassessing their priorities in the wake of a crushing innings-and-242-run triumph against India at Edgbaston on Saturday.
That performance, which was built on the back of Alastair Cook's career-best 294, took England to an unassailable 3-0 series lead with just the Oval Test to come later this week, and ensured that, in little more than two years since the squad was torn apart by the falling-out between the then-captain and coach, Kevin Pietersen and Peter Moores, England have surged to the top of the world Test rankings.
Flower, however, is already looking to the future as he plots a means to turn England's spell at the top into something longer lasting. Writing in his Daily Telegraph column, Shane Warne conceded that the current England team has the look and feel of long-term champions, with big-match temperaments in every position from 1 to 11.
Such heightened new expectations will be tough for Flower's men to live up to, but he believes that two challenges in particular - the forthcoming challenge in the subcontinent, and the inaugural World Test Championship in 2013 - will provide all the focus his players need to ensure their ranking looks after itself.
"I always think it is very dangerous to try to hold on to what you have got," Flower told reporters after the Edgbaston Test. "We used that goal - to be No1 - as a motivational tool that drove us in training and in matches. Now that we have achieved that, what [Andrew] Strauss and I don't want to do is hang on to No. 1 status. That's not a very exciting way to go about our business. We are going to have to reset our goals.
"This winter we go to play against two countries that the last time England toured those countries, we lost. We want to go away and play Pakistan and Sri Lanka away from home and win those series. Ignoring the ranking, those series will have their own importance.
"We've also got the World Test Championship for the first time in 2013 and that's in our own country. That is certainly something we are striving for - we have to be in the top four to get into the semi- finals of it and we are going to be working hard between now and then to ensure we are a strong unit ready for that semi-final."
It was a tour of Pakistan that ended England's last comparable run of sustained form six years ago, when the 2005 Ashes winners were stunned by an unlikely defeat in Multan then crushed by an innings in Lahore. The squad never recovered its momentum after their run of six consecutive series wins had been ended, and Flower is wary that a similar fate can still await this team if they allow their guard to drop.
"Now we are ranked No.1, people will be very hungry to knock us off that perch. There is no doubt about that," said Flower. "It is one thing being good for a short period of time - but having a side that delivers some special results and has some special times together that they will remember for the rest of their lives, that will be a much better thing to look back on than a few victories here and there."
To that end, Flower heaped praise on his Test captain, Strauss, whom he lauded as a "an outstanding leader and a special man". The pair bonded in the Caribbean during England's tour in the spring of 2009, where a disastrous collapse to 51 all out in the first Test in Sabina Park gave both men the licence they needed to mould the team in their own driven images. "The players, after being asked to embrace responsibility, have delivered," he said. "Strauss asked that of them when he took over the captaincy a couple of years ago, and they are repaying him."
At the age of 34, Strauss may not have many more series left at the helm, and so the prospect of taking part in the Ashes double-header in 2013-14 could prove to be a very personal motivation for the final stage of his career. However, his deputy, Cook, has enhanced his credentials as a leader, both through the sheer weight of his batting performances, and latterly through his impressive series win over Sri Lanka in the ODIs. The succession, it would appear, is in safe hands, which lends weight to the perception that England could yet establish a dynasty to rival those of West Indies and Australia in the past 30 years.
Flower, however, does not want to address such grandiose ambitions, and prefers to keep his goals closer to home. "That isn't a very clear target as yet," he said. "I like goals to be fairly specific. I don't think we can compare ourselves to those sides, to be quite honest. They dominated world cricket for lengthy periods. We have been playing well for a little while now but only for a short time in cricketing history terms.
"Who knows what the future holds though? That is going to be up to us."

Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo