Cricket: Flower feels his new role and Cook’s leadership have let England bloom

Victorious England captain Alastair Cook and Monty Panesar at Heathrow. Picture: Getty
Victorious England captain Alastair Cook and Monty Panesar at Heathrow. Picture: Getty
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ANDY Flower is optimistic that England have adopted all the right methods on and off the pitch to take their performance to a new level in 2013.

Flower left India on Monday night, along with the nucleus of the team who completed a historic 2-1 Test series victory under new captain Alastair Cook with a draw in Nagpur.

While others – a largely inexperienced squad under the direction of stand-in skipper Eoin Morgan and assistant coach Richard Halsall – are staying on for two Twenty20s in Pune and Mumbai before returning home for Christmas, Flower had time to assess England’s achievements in 2012 and how they can improve next year.

The England team director, and now specialist Test match coach, is especially encouraged by his own new brief to concentrate his efforts on international cricket’s longest format and devolve the limited-overs management to Ashley Giles.

England finished the calendar year on a high with that draw in Nagpur, which confirmed a first series success in India since 1984-85. But their overall record stood at five victories, three draws and seven defeats from their 15 matches in a hectic year which saw them lose their world No 1 Test status to South Africa.

But Flower believes that the comeback to win in India demonstrates that they have made progress and he is anticipating more in another jam-packed 12 months which will feature a Champions Trophy on home soil and back-to-back Ashes series.

“It is going to be a busy year,” he said. “We’ve got the Champions Trophy – one of our priorities – happening in England and we’ll have a chance there. Then there’s the two Ashes series in the second half of the year.

“That’s going to be some tough, sustained cricket. But we’ve shown out here that we can play that type of cricket, and that we learn to survive in different conditions.”

As for his own status, Flower appears relieved and reinvigorated by a new chain of command with him still at the top of team development and performance.

There was implied confirmation too that the England and Wales Cricket Board’s decision, last month, to split the coaching duties came at his behest.

“I needed something to change, and we hope that this will make us a more efficient organisation,” he said. “We hope that this will be a better use of our resources.”

England’s two senior coaches issued mutual endorsements of one another’s skills when the new structure was first announced, and Flower is convinced Giles’ appointment can only be of great benefit. “We hope that Ashley Giles can take the limited-overs teams forward,” he said. “I think the injection of new ideas and new energy from a successful coach and successful international cricketer, as Ashley is, will be something that Alastair Cook is looking forward to.

“I hope it takes our limited-overs cricket up another notch.”

Flower acknowledges too that, despite the near-instant success of his Test partnership with Cook following the retirement of Andrew Strauss, it is an association which must continue to develop. “It has to,” he continued. “We have to have an excellent relationship to work healthily together.

“He’s been outstanding on this tour, with his batting but also as a leader – he’s been very strong, and is growing in confidence all the time. I said to him earlier I thought tactically he had been excellent – and you can’t always say that about English sides in the sub-continent. I think he’s been a good observer of the opposition, and what works for them, and he’s used some of that to our advantage.”

Flower is positive but realistic in his assessment of England’s 2012.

He said: “I certainly wouldn’t describe it as a year of decline. We’ve had up-and-down results. We didn’t play that well against the spin [against Pakistan] in the UAE, but we’ve also done some superb things.

“We became number one in one-day international cricket, we drew an important Test series in Sri Lanka and won one against the West Indies – and we lost to a very good South African side in England.

“I don’t think there is any embarrassment in that. That happens in international sport.

“Then we’ve come out here and very importantly shown that this bunch of cricketers can learn and adapt.”

The ECB’s acceptance, meanwhile, that their coaches and players need appropriate rest from a relentless international schedule resulted yesterday in changes of personnel to those already chosen to face India in Twenty20s and ODIs this month and next.

Joe Root, fresh from his successful Test debut in Nagpur, was added to the squad in the two short-format matches.

In January, fast bowler James Anderson and No 3 batsman Jonathan Trott will no longer take part in the ODI series – with all-rounder Chris Woakes and middle-order strokemaker Jos Buttler replacing them.