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.
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.
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.
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.