After the darkest of Ashes series in Australia and the indignity of a 5-0 whitewash England’s Winter blues may yet be unrelenting unless greener pastures can Flower under their coach. Conversely the Australian test team are floating on a warm Spring breeze through pastures more lush than the SCG outfield under Darren Lehmann. Where has it gone right and wrong for the two coaches?
The cliche is that you learn more from losing than from winning. If there is anything to that then Australia have finally graduated from a year of depth plumbing. Wallowing in the dust of a 4-0 defeat in India, then 3-0 in England, Australia learned that all the training, analysis, gym time, homework and team meetings in the world are no substitute for team spirit. Positivity. A cold one after a tough day at the office. Once Mickey Arthur, the poorly received South African schoolmaster, was sacked and the cheeky-faced class clown Darren Lehmann came in he seemed to reinvigorate the entire atmosphere in the Australia camp.
Though Australia went on to lose the first leg of the back-to-back Ashes series it was plain to see that the burden of defeat was becoming smaller. Lehmann’s team were close to wins at Manchester, Durham and the Oval. England were flattered by the 3-0 result. This was a largely unsung footnote to a (mostly) deserved victory, but it was there. The insidious nature of England’s decline has now reared its ugly head and chewed its way through their robotic, militaristic underbelly like a scene from Alien. England’s dietary bible cannot be blamed here either. This is a sporting catastrophe. Former England Captain Michael Vaughan and the rock of ages in Geoffrey Boycott have said as much. Boycott though, somewhat reservedly, spared us all from his classic pretence that “his nan” could have played Mitchell Johnson better.
One man who evidently didn’t see this coming is England’s coach-a-tron 3000 Andy Flower. Flower is ruthless. He removed emotion and sentiment from his job. He rarely cracks a smile. He is disciplined, hardworking and calculating. His willingness to grind the adventurous souls out of his opponents with sharp fielding, pack-hunting pinpointed bowling and statistically risk-free batting even brought the best out of divisive and flamboyant players like Kevin Pietersen. He has been England’s most successful coach in living memory. It was all a dream come true for England fans. Their beloved brave new world of cricketers waltzed to three consecutive Ashes victories with relative ease.
The only problem is, it seems alongside a gruelling schedule, Flower’s methods have ground the spirit from his own team. The core of England, [Cook, Trott, Bell, Prior, Anderson and Swann] some of whom are now literally gone, have looked battle-scarred and pained by the sheer concept of cricket. This has been England’s biggest problem. A problem now 5-0 deep.
Levity and the long-faced. Lehmann and Flower’s contrasting styles
To stop the rot it seems plainly obvious Flower needs a change of tack. His strengths have now become tiresome. The military drilling has tired England’s squad. Flower has lost stalwarts in Trott and Swann but still has good options at his fingertips, courtesy of the peripheral squad kept aside for a rainy day by the not-so-barmy army of back room staff. If a fresh, enthusiastic and cheerful-come-professional approach can see Australia resurrected from the cricketing version of the great depression then it could work wonders for England. Australia have been relentless, close-nit, aggressive and exhilarating to watch.
Australia captain Michael Clarke could scarcely have been more complimentary about Darren Lehmann’s influence on proceedings. We’ve heard of Lehmann’s policy of joke telling before they hit the field. We have also heard him amplify the importance of having fun and enjoying yourself.
In the business model of modern cricket and the media pressure-cooker of team performance and selections it must be easier than ever for the modern cricketer to forget that he (or she) should strive to enjoy the sport. Boof’s sentiment cannot be undervalued.
Clarke said of his sparky coach Darren Lehmann,
“Just his personality, the person that he is, he creates a comfortable environment. He’s a wonderful guy. He’s exactly how he was, when I played in the same team with him, as a coach. When I was a young player he was always hard but fair… I think Boof deserves the credit he is receiving.”
Mitchell Johnson and Shane Watson have also been highly complimentary. Why wouldn’t they be? These two made up the dunce hat wearing troop of the famous homework-gate scandal under Mickey Arthur.
All is not lost for Andy Flower. This team has risen and fallen with him. If he is still up for the challenge it would be brave and sensible for the ECB to keep the faith until next year at least. He has only lost one Ashes series. Flower is only a component in a machine of many parts which has rarely malfunctioned. Maybe all that’s needed is a little new software. A joke app. A lighthearted approach to help England rediscover their spirit. This may have been England’s sporting winter of discontent and it is all but over. But if they ever hope to crack the current spell of defeats maybe Andy’s ice-capped demeanour needs thawing for hope and positivity to Flower again.