Tag Archives: Andy Flower

The Strength of Flower and Fletcher discouraged a Generation of Leaders

As critics of Alastair Cook’s captaincy circle like vultures, the unfortunate reality is that there are very few immediate options that could replace him, and this is a direct result of a generation of authoritarian management.

Nobody can doubt that in the last decade, England have had unprecedented success, mixed in with hints of disaster to keep them honest.

In reality; we talk about a new era today, but the new era began when Duncan Fletcher united with Nasser Hussain, and later, Michael Vaughan. England were rock bottom, and they formulated a new plan to bring them to the ascendency.

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This plan was heavily focused on senior players. Tall fast bowlers that were aggressive. Dynamic and athletic fielding, and most importantly, ‘professionalism’ and image. Duncan Fletcher’s reign as coach saw England reach dizzy heights, and once more become the talk of the nation.

But unfortunately, when you rise up high, the fall is just that little bit more turbulent.

The new era became dominated by media interviews and toeing the team line, building a team identity of united-ness and ending the endless factionalism that had prevented England from being a dominant side for so long.

Training was no longer optional. Players that were ill disciplined were dealt with. Selection was made on both fitness and talent, as well as attitude and ‘hunches’ of Fletcher. Image and style was as important as ability and natural talent.

Perhaps it was a little vain, but as England roared against South Africa and beat the Australians for the first time in a very long time, in 2005, it seemed to be working. Something seemed to be working.

This approach left very little for the individual.

It was insular, with Fletcher, the captain, and a small in circle of senior players making the big decisions, and all those smaller players; over there, practicing, and not being involved actively in the team.

Some players had more lives than others.

Some players were more equal than others.

In the longer term, it laid the seeds of its own destruction; because as time went on, players moved on, and those not in that senior circle were left behind. There was a residue of formerly secondary players in the shadow of a great legacy. Fletcher’s steam ran out at this point, and the baton passed; first to Peter Moores, and then to Andy Flower in 2009.

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Andy Flower built upon this notion of senior players, and aggression and dynamism, and in built some new features.

He conditioned this highly skilled unit built up by Fletcher with a ruthless efficiency, dominated by statistics and data.

The back room staff at some points outnumbered even the players, in a horribly stifling, dehumanising environment. Players were no longer humans. They were machines that produced results.

There is a distinct lack of individualism in a team that boats a greater number of staff telling players what to do, than players actually acting themselves. The old saying ‘too many cook’s spoil the broth’ albeit a cliché, comes into great usage here.

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England in red – the back room staff in blue.

This is was cricket by numbers, and although success came thick and fast for some time; when it fell away, it was horribly disenfranchising.

Flower won the Ashes three times, including an emphatic away series in Australia. Under his guidance, England whitewashed India at home, and won in India. They won the T20 world cup, and topped all three format rankings at various points.

But, like with Fletcher, good things do not always last. What we have just witnessed in 2013/14 during these ashes is a combination of failures from Fletcher’s and Flower’s legacies.

The Fletcher legacy collapsed when the inner circle was hollowed out, as senior players lost their form and eventually retired. The team buckled under the pressure of its the great exceptions that it could not meet, but had been built up by Fletcher’s legacy.

Fletcher’s reliance on an inner circle of senior players left a vast vacuum of leaders, and an attitude that captaincy was more an implementation of pre worked plans than an on field innovator.

As for Flower, his stifling mechanised and robotic style of management crushed the individual, and especially when England began to lose after 2012, became a thoroughly drab and unattractive style of cricket.

The natural successor to Andrew Strauss as captain was seemingly his opening partner; Alastair Cook. Despite no captaincy experience, he succeeded the throne, because he was a senior player, and because after all; what he was going to do was just implement plans.

That is the measure of the post Fletcher and Flower era.

The criteria to captain was based upon Fletcher’s notion of the image and attitude of the team being led by a senior player, regardless of little experience. This was mixed with Flower’s doctrine of not having to think, but merely just run through plans and calculations.

Cook is the product of bygone eras. He is not fulfilling what these doctrines want, because he isn’t a natural captain, and doesn’t have the initiative to think outside of the box when teams are countering plans.

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England’s Superiority Complex

England have some outstanding cricketers, but they have a superiority complex. They blot out their failings with the record of excellence and are beginning to take the process of winning for granted.

Since the 8th July 2009 (1st day of the Ashes in 2009) until the last Ashes series 2013, England have played in 54 Tests and have won 28, with 11 series wins out of 16 [excluding the Ashes 2013/14].

They have a strong overall record under the reigns of Andy Flower, but of late, this dominance has smothered their failings. As their success has tailed off since the series against Pakistan in 2012, the failure has been amalgamated into this period of dominance. It has blended into one when, it is two very distinct periods of success and failure. They need to get over themselves. England proudly present their excellence, but as they do, fans and opponents are realising that is a a mechanism to hide a more sinister insecurity and chronic lack of substance. 

There is little doubt that performances have been disappointing in the last year and a half to two years, particularly due to frailties with the bat. Within a more concise time frame, we can see that it has not been as simple as 11 series victories out of 16, but it has in fact been a curve of success, and a dramatic fall from grace. It has given a deceptive and undeserving confidence to England.

Splitting Flower’s England into two periods highlights this curve of success, with England versus Pakistan in the U.A.E. as the mid-way point.

Between the Ashes of 2009 until the India series in England in 2011, almost exclusively, England experienced victory and dominance. After that four-nil drubbing of India, came the series of Pakistan in the U.A.E. in 2012, which England lost 3-0, up until the Ashes in England in 2013, England looked insecure and struggled. Yet when talking about England in recent years, the situation is presented as a monolithic block of success. 

The record is 15/17 series won or drawn. All hail Andy Flower. 

In the first half of this period eight series’ were contested, with seven victories and one draw. It was an exceptional time to be an England fan, and indeed a cricket fan, as some very high quality cricket was offered. England were victorious in 19 out of 29 Tests (a win percentage of 61.51%), and it took them to the dreamy heights of number one ranked Test nation, including two magical Ashes victories in 2009, and 2010/11, and whitewashing then number one Indian side.

Conversely, and rather worryingly, the next eight series (between Pakistan in the U.A.E. in 2012 and the previous Ashes in 2013), have been much less fruitful.

England have won three of these last eight series’, with just 10 Test victories out of 25 Tests (a win percentage of just 40%). There have been seven lost Tests, compared to just four in the previous block (despite the previous period having four more Tests), and England lost their number one ranking. 

It is adequately clear that the current England side is a long shot from that England side between 2009-2011, yet the myth that is perpetuated is that it is the same. The reliance on this fabulous record or having only two lost series in the last 16 is deceptive, because it glosses over their failings. This myth gives England a certain security, and a certain feeling of superiority, as they basque in their own glory, and draw upon that for inspiration.

This side confident, compact and strong unit, or so we think. It’s built on a record of proven success after all, isn’t it? Yet, when they are skittled out for 136 and 179 in the first Ashes Test of 2013/14 people are surprised, as if England should be doing better based on their talent. This is the side that was number one. Why is this happening?

If one is to go on record, the performances given in Brisbane are a mere continuation of lacklustre and dismal form. Alastair Cook, Jonathan Trott, Kevin Pietersen and Ian Bell have all averaged between 39-42, with just 17 centuries in 178 innings. The top four are scoring a century in only 9.5% of England innings. The simple facts are that England need more centuries, partnerships and scores of over 400, 500, 600 and beyond. It isn’t happening.

Overall figures – 17th Jan 2012- Ashes 2013
Player   Matches Innings N.O. Runs HS Ave   100 50      
AN Cook   25 48 3 1933 190 42.95     6 6      
IJL Trott 25 47 2 1779 143 39.53     3 11      
KP Pietersen 21 38 1 1526 186 41.24   4 8      
IR Bell 24 44 7 1460 116* 39.45     4 9      
MJ Prior 25 40 7 1264 110* 38.30     1 8      
JE Root 11 21 2 763 180 40.15     2 3      

The continued struggle to replace the runs of both Paul Collingwood and Andrew Strauss has really hit England hard in creating a base for the innings, and consolidating that base later on. This is shown very clearly with relative high scores in the two periods outlined.

Between the Ashes 2009 and Pakistan 2012, England had one score of 700 plus, two of 600 plus, seven scores of 500 plus, and eight scores of 400 plus. Between Pakistan in the U.A.E. 2012 and the Ashes in 2013, England passed 400 in Test cricket seven times, with only one score of 500, and none of 600 or 700. The runs dried up. Runs win matches against high quality opposition. With the last recorded score of 400 plus all the way back in March 2013 versus the West Indies, England defeated Australia in the Ashes, despite not once going past 400.

They were able to win the Ashes in what Andy Zaltzman accurately called a ‘narrow thrashing’, which is essentially an emphasis on winning despite not actually playing particularly well. They were not exposed for their frailties, so the myth of being this compact and successful team, stuck. Their superiority complex covered up their insecurities. 

Who can criticise a team that won the Ashes, when so many grew up in an era in which England were battered time and time again. To reduce success to the opposition being poor, would seem unfair. Nevertheless, it is apparent that England scraped their way past Australia, because they were not called out for their failings, as they were against the South Africans.

It is about time they stopped pretending they are a side that they are not. They are not a superior outfit. They need to begin to look at their performances independent of the previous record of Flower up until 2011.

This is not a winning England side. This side has a mentality that it can overcome others without necessarily playing well, because this side is special, with Kevin Pietersen and Alastair Cook, Jimmy Anderson and Graeme Swann. All we need to do is turn up. This side was the number one, this side held the Ashes, this side is now losing.