THE appointment of Andy Flower as England team director means that England now have the captain-coach combination they needed when Michael Vaughan quit last northern summer – but it has come about by outrageous fluke.
Six months ago, Kevin Pietersen and Peter Moores were in charge and neither [Andrew] Strauss nor Flower was dreaming of power, let alone world domination, which will be demanded if they somehow manage to win the Ashes. Yet here they are, two hardy souls raised under a Southern African sun, daring England’s players to raise their game through a diet of hard work and tough love.
"I want an ethos of constant improvement within the side," Flower said at Lord’s this week. "I want our players to be constantly moving forward and challenging themselves and I want us to be physically and mentally strong. These are some of the principles that we’ll build this team on."
As Hugh Morris, the managing director of England cricket, who appointed Flower made plain, the coach-captain relationship is crucial to an international side. Show a united front and even the top dogs in the dressing-room will come to heel, and that is something that needs to happen if England are to perform as a team and not, as is increasingly the case, as a bunch of disparate, but not untalented, individuals.
"Captains and coaches don’t always have to agree or to get on perfectly," Flower said. "In fact, it’s healthy if there is always debate between the two of you and the rest of the management team and squad. I respect Andrew. I think he’s a very good cricketer and a very good captain."
One worry about Flower’s partnership with Strauss is that while they would have made a wonderfully contrasting pair as batsmen, they are perhaps too similar as thinkers.
Mind you, having too much integrity could be a nice problem for England to have.
As you would expect from a man who has just been handed an extra megawatt of power in his job, Flower refused to reveal his strategic plans, insisting that he had only just got the post. Yet, as Moores’s assistant for 20 months, and as interim coach on the tour to the West Indies, he has been involved long enough to know what he wants to change. His chief targets are "Player plcs" and the complacency caused by central contracts.
The concept of the Player plc, which has but one shareholder, is not new.
When he was England coach, Keith Fletcher was critical of Robin Smith for concentrating more on his business interests off the field than those on it. Most players are at it now and while few will blame them for maximising their profits in a relatively short career, it is easy to forget where priorities lie.
Changing that and dismantling the system of central contracts will not make Flower popular, but when you have defied Robert Mugabe and his henchmen by wearing black armbands to signify the death of democracy in Zimbabwe, you are obviously not easily swayed from your convictions.
England’s new team director possesses resolve and determination, which was also illustrated when he quit county cricket with Essex in 2007 to become a coach, forgoing a benefit worth at least £300,000 ($622,000). Success is never guaranteed when you move platforms, but with Flower you sense it has a better than even chance.
According to Morris, there were 30 applicants for the England team director’s post, although he would not reveal how many made it to the final interview in front of the four-man panel he chaired. He is confident that England have chosen the right man.
Flower’s appointment has not been universally approved, however. Duncan Fletcher, one of his predecessors, said he had been handed the job before proving himself under real pressure, although that is something that the Ashes and World Twenty20 tournament will surely bring.