Evening Standard

Laid back: Andy Flower looks in relaxed mood ahead of England’s battle to retain the Ashes Down Under. Image courtesy of Evening Standard.

There has already been plenty of Australian barracking that England’s best players are from South Africa but for England’s director of cricket, Andy Flower, this diversity gives them the edge. “Australia has never had a foreign coach. I don’t know if they ever will,” he says.

“In England, we are a diverse community. I’m part of that as a Zimbabwean. You’ve got a Sikh in Monty Panesar, an Australian fast-bowling coach, a Pakistani spin-bowling coach, one of the most patriotic Englishmen in Graham Gooch and our fielding coaches are Zimbabwe-born but have grown up in England.

“That diversity is very healthy, makes for a very interesting mix and is one of our strengths.”

England begin their Ashes campaign with the First Test in Brisbane on 25 November. Before then there are three warm-up matches to be played, starting with Friday’s clash with Western Australia in Perth.

While Flower does not to want to dwell on Australia too much he does concede that their recent failures suggest their team are weakened.

The impression he gives is that, while English teams used to go to Australia fearing what might happen, now it is the visitors who could surprise the Aussies.

Flower dismisses talk that Australia look their weakest since 1987, when England last won there, but he has noticed a change and cites two recent examples in their failure to get Panesar out in last year’s opening Ashes Test and letting India scrape a one-wicket win last month in Mohali.

“If Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath had been in the side, they would have won those Tests. Those guys are some of the best cricketers that have ever played,” he says. “But it would be very dangerous to disrespect the present Australian side. We know we can beat them but we will have to be at the top of our game.”

However, there is one bit of England’s Ashes past that Flower is sure will not be repeated. The turning point of the last series Down Under was in the Second Test at Adelaide, where England lost after declaring at 551 for six.

Flower’s predecessor, Duncan Fletcher, commented bitterly in his autobiography that Andrew Flintoff and Steve Harmison were drinking in the Australian dressing room well past midnight after that defeat.

“I certainly wouldn’t ban such fraternising but there isn’t the same amount of drinking as there was,” Flower says. “This is because of the way people recuperate from their exertions on the field and from training. You don’t get the opportunity to fraternise like they did years ago.”

Flower, 42, speaks with the confidence of a coach who helped England recover from a situation nearly two years ago when they seemed likely to implode. He readily admits that, after the double departure of Peter Moores as coach and Kevin Pietersen as captain, “there was serious turmoil in our camp”.

He adds: “I did have a few doubts about taking the job. Initially, I wondered about going to the West Indies as interim coach at all because of what happened to Peter. He was, is, a good friend of mine and obviously I worked very closely with him. It was while doing my English and Wales Cricket Board level four coaching certificate that I met him and he invited me to do some coaching up at the academy. His departure was all quite ugly.

“The team were unsure of Andrew Strauss as captain. The tricky thing for them was whether to believe in the partnership of coach and captain. At the back of their minds was the question: this coach guy could be gone in two months, why should we buy into what he’s asking us to do?”

Flower and Strauss’s first Test in charge — against the West Indies at Sabina Park — saw England bowled out for 51 in the second innings. “Obviously that wasn’t part of the plan,” Flower says. “But it gave us an opportunity to draw a line under the past. Our theory was if we were honest with each other about where we were as a group, it gave us the chance to move on.”

England moved on so well that, after losing the Test series, they became the first England side to win a one-day series in the West Indies and that gave Flower the confidence to take the job permanently. Since then, under his directorship, England have regained the Ashes and won an ICC tournament for the first time — this year’s Twenty20 World Cup.

Yet one England player, Flower admits, is still recovering from that turmoil. He says: “It was a particularly tumultuous time for Kevin [Pietersen] and I think some of the emotions that he had probably are still around. Kevin acknowledges that he has gone through a tough period of his life and his cricketing career, captaining England, then losing the captaincy.

“The dip in his form, particularly his international form [no Test century since March 2009], has been very tough. He also has had a child. Most people, at some stage during their lives, go through hard times. He will have learned a lot about himself and he will have grown during this period.”

Nor does Flower have any problems living with KP’s opinions. “You don’t want the players to be wet fishes. I like the fact that he’s got strong opinions.”

But he cannot accept Pietersen’s view that, at 30, he feels he is going down the other side of the hill. “I’d fundamentally disagree with that,” says Flower. “As a batsman, it should be a very good time for him. I’d expect him to have world-class results for England over the next five years.

“One of Kevin’s great strengths is his self-belief and, if he plays anywhere near his potential, he will be crucial to retaining the Ashes.”

But could Pietersen be dropped from the Test side, as he was from the one-day team? “I don’t even want to talk about that possibility,” Flower says. “I expect him to score runs in the three first-class games before the First Test and in the Tests thereafter.”

But if there are doubts surrounding Pietersen, there are none about Graeme Swann. The off spinner, agrees Flower, could make all the difference.

“He brings a lot to our party and, on the park, he’s a crucial member of our attack,” Flower says. “When we’re playing only four bowlers, he’s a man who will bowl a big quota of overs, especially in hot climes.”

But can England really win in Australia with a four-man attack, something that has not been done for almost a century?

“Australia used that policy for the last 15 or 20 years and they were the world number one side,” he argues. “England used a five-man attack on the last Ashes tour and lost five-nil. But the four-bowler attack is not set in stone. We could have five bowlers, depending on the conditions.”

Such pragmatism reflects the personality of a man who has matured from a tea cup-throwing captain of Zimbabwe into a caring man-manager.

“One of my weaknesses as captain was dealing with people,” he admits. “I look back and cringe at some of the things I did. I judged people too harshly, too quickly. I did not have empathy with people.”

Now the 42-year-old, who is Zimbabwe’s highest Test and one-day scorer, says: “When I’m working one-to-one with a player, a big part of my job is to grow his self-awareness. If you’re a batsman, understanding how you score runs in a fairly low-risk fashion. If you’re a bowler, understanding how far you can push yourself physically, how you build pressure, where your wicket-taking areas are.

“I was a good player but had nowhere near as much talent as guys like Ravi Bopara or Ian Bell. But I did make the most of myself.”

This could hardly be said about some of the Pakistan cricketers and Flower is both “annoyed and sad” over the events of the summer. “Firstly, it devalued our results,” he says. “Also, it’s such a shame that some cricketers have ruined their reputations forever. Obviously they haven’t been proved guilty yet but the reports don’t look good. And it’s not good for the game — it’s sad in all sorts of ways.”

Interestingly, Flower did not take seriously the comments of Ijaz Butt, the Pakistan cricket Board chief, that England players were also in the pay of bookies. He says: “Andrew [Strauss] and our players were very angry but I didn’t give it much credence. I knew it wasn’t true.”

Flower adds: “Spot fixing is a major problem and is quite a tricky thing to nail down. I would imagine some of that is a hangover from what’s happened over the last 10 to 15 years.”

But, if this history has returned to haunt the game, Flower is more optimistic regarding his own past. In the 2003 World Cup, he and Henry Olonga wore black armbands to protest about the Robert Mugabe regime. Now his own brother has gone back and his “good friend” David Coulthard is minister of education, sport and culture.

So would he go back? “I’d love to but I’m a bit busy at the moment.” A simple matter of retaining the Ashes urn.

Andy Flower is an ambassador of the Sky Sports ECB Coach Education Programme, which has trained 33,000 coaches over the past four years. For more information on the scheme, visit


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