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Andy Flower: 'Looking after the person is more important than developing the player'

The former England coach, currently with Kings XI Punjab, talks leadership, runtime tactics, and data in franchise cricket

After 12 years at the ECB, Andy Flower left the organisation in October 2019, and since then has become a familiar face in the world of franchise cricket. He has enjoyed early success, too: his Maratha Arabians side won the Abu Dhabi T10, he took St Lucia Zouks to the CPL final earlier in September, and his Multan Sultans team will head into the PSL knockouts in November as favourites, having topped the group stage before Covid-19 struck. Ahead of Kings XI Punjab's first game in the 2020 IPL, Flower, who is the franchise's assistant coach, spoke about his experience in the short-format circuit.
The man who played arguably the best innings of this year's CPL is part of your Kings XI squad in the IPL. After that outrageous hundred against the Patriots, do you see this as a breakout season for Nicholas Pooran in your middle order?
I'd be surprised if it isn't. He looks like an outstanding player. When I first saw him, several years ago, I thought that he looked technically like the sort of player who could excel in any form of the game. He was excellent in the CPL and I would imagine he's going to be outstanding for Kings XI this year. He looks in really good form, and he looks fit. Remember, he broke his legs a couple of years ago, so to get himself back into the sort of physical nick that he has done shows a depth of character that will serve him well. And he's a young man with a lot of talent, and all the fundamentals that mean he should be a really consistent performer.
You missed Chris Gayle, who withdrew from the Zouks. He is a T20 legend, but aged 40, he's no longer a guaranteed starter. How can you make sure he still brings something to the group even if he's not picked every game?
That's primarily Chris' responsibility, but I'll be working closely with Anil [Kumble, KXIP head coach], plus our other coaches - Jonty Rhodes, Wasim Jaffer and Charl Langeveldt - in ensuring that we're getting the most out of everyone. We have a big squad over here, and it's not just those big names that will be influential in how the dressing room feels. The young Indian players on the sidelines who might not be expecting to play, how they approach the tournament will affect how the group feels.
I was around early in Chris' career [Flower made an unbeaten hundred in Gayle's debut Test in 2000] and have seen him have success in every format. I've not worked closely with him before, but I think he's a lot more thoughtful about the game than some might give him credit for. His effect on a dressing room is very positive, from what I've heard. He's not finished yet: there's still some international cricket in him, and these tournaments allow him the platform to perform.
There's really good competition for the batting places: more than likely, two of Chris, Pooran and Glenn Maxwell will be playing at any one time. We saw Maxwell's success in the ODI series in England, and we know what the other two can do, so it's great that we have three quality batsmen vying for a couple of spots.
There have been several different suggestions as to how you might balance your overseas combination. Is it likely to be two overseas batsmen and two overseas bowlers in the playing XI?
Anil has a good idea for what our XI is going to be, and I won't jump the gun. I would imagine that Mujeeb [Ur Rahman], given his form from the CPL and his T20 pedigree, will be a constant presence in the side. Dependent on surfaces, opposition, form, and balance, that will determine the other spots. We talked about continuity earlier: getting that balance right between giving people continuity of opportunity in a batting order, and resting players when they need some space and giving other guys a chance - those are the sort of decisions you need to get right.
"The franchises with a slightly longer-term view on how they develop as an organisation are the ones that have had more sustained success"
KL Rahul is leading Kings XI for the first time. How do you think he ranks as a batsman in T20, and what indications have you got so far about how he will fare as a captain?
He's one of the top players in the world. He's been one of the top-performing batsmen in IPL in the last two years, and he's had a really strong start in international cricket, and played quite a lot for India already. I had a really nice Zoom call with him and Anil when I was in the Caribbean, as an introduction, but I don't know him too well just yet. He seems like a mature, humble man. He has quite a workload being skipper, keeping wicket, and as one of the top batsmen in the tournament, and our job is to take some of the responsibilities away from him so that he can focus on those jobs.
A standout name among your young Indian players this year is legspinner Ravi Bishnoi, who has impressed in age-group cricket. What are your expectations from him?
I know a little about him because I commentated at the Under-19 World Cup at the start of this year. Other than being a skilful legspin bowler, he looked like a really good competitor. With some of the leadership in India recently - [Sourav] Ganguly, [MS] Dhoni, [Virat] Kohli - I think young cricketers there are growing up with real confidence, and a certain type of aggression with which they go into competitions. That's a really good thing for them as a cricketing nation, and he is a good example of it. He looks very talented, and that sort of youthful exuberance and confidence can go a long way.
You've been head coach of three franchises, but are an assistant coach to Kumble in this tournament. How will that relationship work?
It will be very different, and I'm quite looking forward to a new role. Mushtaq Ahmed, who I worked with for a number of years with England and also at Multan, once described the roles to me by saying the head coach is like a father figure, who occasionally disciplines children, whereas the assistants are more like mother figures, who get closer to the players, can be confidantes, and have quite a different relationship with them. I've got that at the back of my mind. Some people might see me as quite a scary mother figure, possibly, but I'm looking forward to playing a different role and hopefully playing my part in a successful campaign.
Your first assignment after lockdown was in the CPL, where you were head coach of St Lucia Zouks - a franchise who have notoriously struggled, and have never really done anything in that competition. You suffered with international travel restrictions, too, losing Colin Ingram, Rilee Rossouw and Anrich Nortje after the draft.
At the PSL, Daren Sammy approached me and wanted to know if I'd be interested in coaching the Zouks. I was dead keen, but yes, the pandemic scuppered our overseas player plans. It was a bit of a scrabble for us, more than most teams. Towards the start of the tournament we were really scratching our heads as to how to replace them. We ended up with three Afghan overseas players and Scott Kuggeleijn came across from New Zealand. He was outstanding with the new ball, and ended up as the leading wicket-taker.
The Zouks have not had a successful history in the CPL, but my experience was that it was brilliant fun. I loved working with Sammy as captain - I could see why he'd had such success with the West Indies limited-overs teams over the years, with the two T20 World Cups. We were a good combination that dovetailed well. Getting through to the final was such a huge boost of confidence for that playing group. We won some amazing games from almost nowhere - for instance, defending 92 against Barbados Tridents - and watching both the older guys and the youngsters providing match-winning contributions.
Sammy didn't do much batting or bowling in this tournament but still seemed to add value through his captaincy. You talked about him as an instinctive rather than data-driven captain, but you still used match-ups a lot, with your army of offspinners turning the ball away from opposition left-handers.
You're right that Daren didn't have a great time of it with bat or ball, but his captaincy was genuinely outstanding. I know he enjoyed having a little more information to work with in the build-up to both the whole tournament and each individual match. He hadn't gone about it that way before. In a 36-year-old who has been around the block, it was quite nice that he experienced something new.
But he was inspirational out there in the middle: he made excellent decisions tactically, he took a couple of outstanding catches - including a diving one at slip off Zahir Khan that turned our game against the Tallawahs - and he's an inspirational character. I'm certain that he will lead cricket in St Lucia in some way over the coming years - he might be coming towards the end of his playing time, but he's the heartbeat of their cricket.
It's a year since you left the ECB, after 12 years of involvement there. Have you enjoyed the change of pace of the last 12 months?
I was surprised, when my involvement at the ECB ended, to look back at how quickly it went. I really enjoyed my time there and worked with some amazing people. This has been a change of pace, and a change of environment; it's been really interesting seeing the contrast between working for a national governing body and then a set of different franchises. I'd had a little taste of it in the very first edition of the PSL - I was assistant coach with Peshawar Zalmi - when I was taking a month's break from ECB work. It has been similar to what I expected, and I've had some really interesting and great experiences.
Your first tournament was the Abu Dhabi T10. Was a short competition like that a useful starting point, in that you had a limited time to create a group atmosphere and mindset, rather than the longer-term, developmental work you might have become used to at the ECB?
I think you've nailed it there. When you're working for a national governing body and with a national team, you're looking at medium- to long-term development of people, systems, skill sets, characters, and the ability to deal with pressure. You can have a long-term strategy for that. With franchises, especially in the T10, you're specifically being brought in to win, and win quite quickly.
The challenge is completely different: getting a group together, getting some unity of purpose, making people feel comfortable and as if they have the freedom to make decisions for themselves in the middle. Those are common things in coaching and leadership, but you shift from that medium- to long-term outlook to something a little more short-term. In saying that, I would add that more successful franchises tend to have some stability and continuity about them. Those with a slightly longer-term view on how they develop as an organisation are the franchises that have had more sustained success.
"T10 is a very tactical game, and you need more than one plan, so a captain like Bravo was worth his weight in gold. Not only can an over make or break an innings, but a couple of balls can"
In the T10, it seemed like Maratha Arabians achieved most of their success through Chris Lynn's incredible run of form. Was there more to it than that?
Chris Lynn was a factor, without a doubt - he played brilliantly, and it was amazing to watch him do his stuff. It was really interesting watching that sort of power, and then the skill of a guy like Lasith Malinga - watching him train, and observing his level of skill from close quarters, was really brilliant. We had a young left-arm swing bowler from UAE [Shiraz Ahmad] and you could see how he grew in confidence and knowledge through working with Malinga. The exposure to those sorts of players, plus our captain Dwayne Bravo, is not only good for the younger players, but also as a coach coming into franchise cricket for the first time.
How tactical is T10 cricket? It feels like teams go to their death plans very early after the powerplay. Is the timing of that shift the most important thing?
I really enjoyed the format - the game is over in the period of time that we're used to for hockey, rugby, football matches. With a three-over powerplay, the batsmen are hitting straightaway. It's a very tactical game, and you need more than one plan, so a captain like Bravo was worth his weight in gold. Not only can an over make or break an innings, but a couple of balls can. You have to realise what is working and stick with it, but also know that you have to be proactive and make decisions ahead of the opposition, and that getting the timing of those decisions right is very important. In my experience so far, both franchise and international, your on-field leadership is crucial to your chances of success. I've been lucky to work with some outstanding leaders: Andrew Strauss is an obvious one with England, but also Bravo, Daren Sammy in the CPL and Shan Masood in the PSL.
Before the PSL, Masood seemed like an unexpected choice as your captain at Multan Sultans, because he wasn't seen as a T20 player. But is it right that he was very receptive to that precise, tactical, data-driven approach that you and Nathan Leamon pushed at that franchise?
There was a really interesting contrast between how we approached things at Multan and my experiences with Bravo and Sammy. The Multan owners, Ali and Alamgir Tareen, really wanted us to have a data-driven, tactical look at how we could attack that tournament. It was really interesting to have that driven from the top. Nathan was the first guy they recruited, and they followed up with me - which was ironic, given I recruited Nathan for England [as the team's performance analyst in 2009]. It was great working with him again. We used data to drive our draft strategy, and then our selection decisions and our tactics.
Shan was specifically chosen as captain - by the owners, primarily - because he was a man that could sift that sort of information, and handle the level of it. He did brilliantly. He's not a player that's got that much T20 experience, but he studies the game well, and I thought he handled the information that he was given and used it wisely on the field. Our discussions off the field helped him too, and that was a very different approach to the one I experienced with Bravo and Sammy. Both of them have outstanding cricket knowledge and a lot of experience, but are very instinctive captains. Our use of data was significantly adjusted when dealing with those two.
It is no secret that you used data and analysis a lot during your time as England coach. How much have you done so in the last 12 months?
When I was with England, we wanted to approach the game differently, and help us as coaches to understand the game to a different depth and breadth, and also help players challenge their understanding of the game. In this last period, it's an important part of it. But you can never forget that you're dealing with human beings. One of the most important things I've learned in my years of coaching is that looking after the person is more important than developing the player. It's a really important thing to learn as a coach, because it drives how you interact with people, and how you care for them.
I read an interview with Leamon in the Times, where he mentioned that the coaching staff would speak to Masood while he was out on the field - more so than we'd expect from a coach on the sidelines in cricket. Can you tell me about that?
I don't want to give away too many secrets. We weren't doing a Bob Woolmer with a microphone in the ear, or breaking any rules like that. We were communicating with him, and maximising the information that he had available, but with the understanding that it was always his decision out there in the middle. He was seeing the game from a certain perspective, with some differences to ours off the field. Combining those bits of information and then allowing the captain to make his own decision was the way to go, we thought, and it worked really well through that tournament.
What sort of information would you be passing on? Favourable match-ups for the new batsman?
Match-ups over a shortened game are very important, and so is getting your field and your bowling tactics right. That sort of information would be covered pre-game, but that's a lot of information for a captain, and obviously he won't retain it all. [Favourable match-ups] would be an example: a gentle reminder of the flow of the game, the resources you have left in the attack, and just putting the right chess pieces in place at the right time.
Are you heading straight back to Pakistan after the IPL for the PSL knockouts?
Hopefully it'll be after the IPL final. I'll head straight across to Lahore, and we have the semi-finals and hopefully final in mid-November. It's a pity that the momentum which we had at the start of the year isn't quite there, but that's another challenge: we'll have to get up to speed really quickly, and see which of our overseas players we can get to Lahore, then see if we can win the thing.

Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets at @mroller98