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Match Analysis

Flower power fuels Rockets success as deep playing squad survive final test

Trent Rockets stick to Andy Flower blueprint to cap strong season with Hundred silverware

Matt Roller
Matt Roller
03-Sep-2022
Lewis Gregory chops through the off-side in his matchwinning knock  •  Getty Images

Lewis Gregory chops through the off-side in his matchwinning knock  •  Getty Images

Lewis Gregory pierced the gap in the covers and raised his arm in the air. Luke Wood sprinted through towards the pavilion, throwing his bat, then helmet into the night sky. Their team-mates raced onto the Lord's outfield, engulfing the ninth-wicket pair that had dragged Trent Rockets across the line in a nip-and-tuck final, one that played out more like a 40-over slow-burner than a 100-ball thrash.
Rockets had lift-off, and their head coach Andy Flower stood up in the dugout to breathe a sigh of relief. They had made life difficult for themselves in pursuit of 121 on a sticky, two-paced pitch but the squad that he had constructed and polished over the last 16 months had come good just when it needed to.
Most of Rockets' success in 2022 had owed to their opening partnership, Alex Hales and Dawid Malan, who finished the season with 48.7% of the team's runs off the bat between them. But in the final, they managed a combined 27 off 26 balls.
Hales miscued Josh Little to cover looking for a fast start, and Malan was reminded why he decided to avoid playing his home games on this ground when he left Middlesex for Yorkshire three years ago, struggling for fluency on an end-of-season pitch before falling to a leading edge off Paul Walter.
Instead, this victory relied on Rockets' depth and versatility. Throughout this tournament, they have fielded a side featuring six frontline bowling options and a batting line-up with Wood, a man with two first-class hundreds to his name, coming in at No. 10. In the field against Originals, Rockets used six bowlers, each of whom bowled at least two sets of five; in the chase, six batters reached double figures, but nobody made as many as 20.
A wealth of allrounders has been a key feature of Flower's sides since his first forays into the franchise circuit. "The ideal is to bat deep," he explained to ESPNcricinfo. "There's no doubt that when a batting unit looks down the order and sees that you bat to No. 9 or 10, you feel a greater sense of freedom to attack. And the ideal is to have six bowling options… it gives the captain maximum flexibility with his tactical game."
Flower's teams invariably have variety in their bowling options. Rockets are no different: on Saturday night, they picked two left-arm seamers including one out-and-out quick in Wood, two right-arm seamers, a left-arm spinner and an offspinner. Unusually, they were without a wristspinner, with Rashid Khan (Asia Cup) and Tabraiz Shamsi (CPL) both unavailable, but Gregory's smart, simple captaincy made things work.
Sam Cook, whose 4 for 18 won him the match award, said: "The number of allrounders we've got is unique. We've lost a couple of players - Rash and Shamsi - but the depth of squad that we've got means that someone like Matt Carter, who probably slid under the radar tonight, has come into the biggest game in the tournament and nailed his skills.
"That's been the biggest strength of our squad this tournament, the depth. It's testament to the squad and the recruitment done before the tournament: we had Lewis walking in at No. 8, a bloke with the ability to hit the best bowlers in the world out of the park. That's quite a luxury."
There is a simplicity that has underpins most of Rockets' decision-making. Whenever possible, they look to create a left-right partnership between their batters - Colin Munro has batted as low as No. 6 - and with the ball, they ensure their spinners bowl to favourable match-ups whenever possible. In the final, Carter bowled 15 of his 20 balls to left-handers, with Samit Patel bowling 10 of his 15 to right-handers.
Coaches and analysts are regularly criticised for an apparent obsession with those principles, but Flower's success - his teams invariably reach the knockout stages of whichever competition they are playing in, from CPL to IPL, PSL to T10 - suggests they are rest on sound logic: Gregory's game-changing six off Richard Gleeson, turning an equation of 11 off 5 into 5 off 4, was whipped over the short leg-side boundary.
The reputation of being an intense coach that Flower earned during his England tenure has been hard to shake despite his success on the franchise circuit; shortly after the winning runs were struck, he found himself stood next to Kevin Pietersen on Sky Sports with a microphone in his hand, gently being ribbed by Eoin Morgan about his penchant for team meetings.
But it is clear that Flower has evolved. "He's chilled out in his old age, you see," Gregory said, laughing. "You guys got him when he was a taskmaster." Cook said he had become "a bit of a comedian" during the Hundred. "He's had the boys laughing a lot. He doesn't say a lot, but when he speaks, you know to listen."
Flower admitted to some doubts after the final. "I thought we might have thrown it away," he said. "Those guys [Hales and Malan] have been brilliant up top… with them not scoring big runs and some of the other guys chipping in, it's quite pleasing that it was a team effort."
In the franchise era, the profile of coaches has never been higher. This was primarily a triumph for Rockets, the best team in the men's Hundred with seven wins out of nine - but it was also a victory for Flowerball.

Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98