All good things come to an end. Andy Flower’s tenure as England’s director of cricket was certainly good; at times it was great. It took a rampant Australia side, hell-bent on avenging recent losses to England, though, to burst through the evident recently-emerged cracks to shatter Flower’s England.
The Caribbean in 2009: England rolled out for 51 in Jamaica. Flower’s England tenure was up and running in the worst possible way. Australia 2014: England rolled over by 281 runs in Sydney. Flower’s England tenure ended in the worst possible way.
The bits in between were good (the antithesis of a sh*t-sandwich, if you will). There were three Ashes successes, a World T20 triumph – England’s first piece of ICC silverware – and a rise to the number one ranking in all three formats. Victories in Australia and India were crowning achievements in the Test arena.
Yet, the signs were there that all was not well. Having risen to number one in the Test rankings with an emphatic 4-0 whitewash of a bedraggled India, England contrived to be whitewashed themselves at the hands of Saeed Ajmal and Abdur Rehman in the UAE against Pakistan. That tour was a complete disaster, but a disaster that has since been overshadowed by a far more protracted humiliation in Australia. Anyway, the ghosts of that 3-0 hammering were exorcised in a once-in-a-generation 2-1 series win in India.
A home series defeat to South Africa, 2-0, in 2012 was the end of the Flower/Andrew Strauss partnership that was credited with turning around the England ship. A flurry of textual activity from Kevin Pietersen left a cloud hanging over the dressing room. Flower was incapable of keeping a lid on his star man. A man who singlehandedly won a Test match in Colombo, got on top of the South Africans at Headingley and, in tandem with Alastair Cook, won a pivotal Test in Mumbai – all in 2012. That knock in Mumbai, of course, after KP’s ‘reintegration’.
Flower was always a man prone to conservatism. It was not a philosophy that was ever going to enable England to achieve their stated aim of ‘domination’ once the number one ranking had been achieved. Overly cautious declarations, indeed, cost England a series win in the Caribbean in 2009. Through painful negativity, that series was lost 1-0 on the back of the Jamaican debacle.
Flower’s record in bringing through new players has been shoddy, too. He has capped 20 cricketers in the Test arena, yet his success remained built on the foundations laid by Duncan Fletcher. Cook, Ian Bell, Pietersen, Matt Prior, Paul Collingwood, Stuart Broad, James Anderson, Graeme Swann – even Monty Panesar – had all been capped before Flower arrived, either by Fletcher or Flower’s direct predecessor, Peter Moores.
Of those 20, only six have featured in more than 10 Tests, although it appears likely that Ben Stokes will, too. Only Jonathan Trott has been an unqualified success. Even he was given his debut in an England shirt under a previous regime. What happened to Amjad Khan, Ajmal Shahzad, James Taylor, James Tredwell, Simon Kerrigan and Chris Woakes? All one-cap wonders bar Taylor, who played two Tests against South Africa – the toughest opposition going in recent years – never to be seen again.
There was also the curious case of Nick Compton. Brought into open in India, he then found his feet in New Zealand with a couple of centuries, before being jettisoned just before the Ashes. He didn’t get on with Graham Gooch, England’s batting coach. With no flexibility in operation, Compton was dropped after nine Tests. Did Flower have no prior knowledge of Compton’s purported ‘awkward’ character after he had toured twice with the England Lions?
The fresh-faced Joe Root was bumped up to open, failed, then there was no willingness to lose face as previous one-cap wonder Michael Carberry was drafted in, first as cover, then as opener in the face of Root’s failings, for an Ashes tour. If he was good enough to open in Australia in 2013, why was he not good enough to open in India in 2012?
There was a stubborn streak to Flower that, initially, brought great success. As complacency set in, however, Flower was powerless to stop it. How else to explain a side that won in India 12 months ago being completely ravaged in Australia?
And this, really, is the crux of the issue. England’s spell as anything approaching a dominant force is over. Restructuring now needs to be undertaken. Having just overseen the worst tour by any side in the history of cricket and with an appalling track record of blooding new players into a clique-led and clearly unwelcoming environment, was Flower the right man to drive forward a brave new era? Forget past success – there is no room for sentiment in sport.
Flower is a decent man and seemingly he did the decent thing in handing in his resignation. His skills should remain utilised in English cricket. Hopefully he’ll take on a reported role in the development of English cricket at Loughborough. His inflexibility will pass on well from one year to the next. His strength, that became a weakness, will become a strength again.
As for the question of who replaces Flower, there is a big decision to be made at the ECB. The fear is that there was a happiness to keep Flower in situ through 2015. His job, remarkably, was safe. There was no recognition that the trigger needed to be pulled. The rabbit caught in the headlights act seldom works. It looks likely that England will be left with a patsy – someone to keep the seat warm before it is realised that change is needed and a proper appointment is made.
If David Moyes feels like that at Manchester United, Ashley Giles will do as England team director, too.
By Miles Reucroft