Former England coach Andy Flower finds peace coaching local cricket club after traumatic Ashes winter

Yet the nets are alive with warmth and humour as well as awe. The lads laugh
about the time Flower brought his dog-thrower for a net-session – or the
‘sidearm’ that throws balls for dogs or batsmen – and his first ball was a
beamer. Flower may look solemn, but he is not solemn about cricket, only

Flower walks down the net and takes hold of a player’s bat to demonstrate a
cover-drive. He is 46 now, but his Test average is still 51, and the
perfection of the stroke – his head extending above then beyond the toe of
his front foot – is not the least artistic sight in Stratford this evening,
even with the Royal Shakespeare Company 200 yards away across the river.

The manner of Flower’s departure in January was entirely inappropriate – and
that of his predecessor but one, Duncan Fletcher, in all too similar
circumstances. These two Zimbabweans did an immense amount for English
cricket – under their aegis England won 72 Tests and lost 47, whereas for
the rest of the time since January 1980, they won 54 and lost 88 – but
neither is a political animal. They did not schmooze the media. They just
did what they thought was best for English cricket – and when they were
shown the door, they were left by officialdom to let themselves out.

So, how is he feeling now? “I’m very well, thank you,” Flower replied. “I’m
enjoying being at home every night, which is certainly a change of
lifestyle. I was away about 260 nights a year until Ashley [Giles] took over
the limited-overs sides and that cut it in half to about 130. It’s quite
difficult to comprehend how I spent so much time away, now I’m spending so
much time at home. One of the bonuses of finishing when I did is that I can
now spend more time with my wife, and watch my three children grow up, and I
was very conscious of the clock ticking away.”

How did he feel when he went to Lord’s in January and resigned? “It was a huge
sense of loss. When you throw your heart and soul into something – I knew
I’d eventually have to step away or be moved on, but I guess it was the
manner of the defeat in Australia that was hard to accept. I was absolutely
certain that we had built a stronger unit than the product we delivered in
Australia. But it did seem like a perfect storm out there. Losing Trotty
[Jonathan Trott] in that manner was a crucial factor right at the start of
the tour. I class him as a friend and I hope he comes back strong, but that
was a horrible start.

“You have to give them enormous credit to Darren Lehmann and Michael Clarke
for turning things around. At first Mitchell Johnson delivered what we
thought he would deliver in his first six overs at Brisbane, but thereafter
he was outstanding. In a gruesome sort of way it was great fast bowling to
watch. We did what we could to prepare for Johnson, even replicating him in
training with bowling machines and left-arm quicks [Harry Gurney and Tymal
Mills] that we brought in to work with us.

“It takes a little while, not to get it out of your system because I’m still
very much committed to English cricket, but there is almost a hangover
period from when you are in the job and thinking every waking moment about
maximising the resources we had. I’m starting to feel a little bit fresher
now. I don’t want to make it sound melodramatic, but I was working solidly
with England for seven years and it is pretty full-on. Great fun, great
challenge, and an important role, but it is nice now to have a little more

In Australia, Flower initially said he wanted to continue. So what changed?
“When I said that, there was speculation about whether I’d go on, which was
inevitable after the manner of our defeat in Australia. There was a
possibility I would carry on but in the immediate aftermath I thought the
responsible thing was to step away from the heat of the moment and come home
to contemplate such an important decision. I think it took 10 days or so of
chatting to a couple of people I trust and having a quiet think.

“There were a number of reasons. Perhaps it was the time for change, in the
best interests of the side, and my tanks might have been running a little
dry. Also I don’t think the press would have accepted the manner of our
defeat in Australia without seeing some blood spilt, if that’s not too
dramatic a phrase; I don’t think they would have let it go.

“But the job being split [with Flower as the Test coach in overall charge and
Giles as coach of the limited-overs teams] was a huge part. I didn’t see a
way forward as we were. We restructured out of necessity, like we
restructured the captaincy model. We made the three-captains model work. But
after a year of trying to make the two-coaches model work, it was obvious
that it wasn’t going to.

“I’m not apportioning any blame, and it might be that in 50 years’ time when
we have more diverse playing groups for each format it might work. And I
feel for Ashley because he coached the limited-overs sides for a while but
never had the absolute freedom to make his own decisions, even though I
tried to give him as much space as possible.”

Flower was not in England for a single ball of the two-Test series in Sri
Lanka. Still employed by the England and Wales Cricket Board as the
technical director of elite coaching, he was attending several conferences
in the United States. One was about the creativity of athletes in extreme
sports. “Some of these athletes are brilliant at what they do, highly
skilled, but crucially a lot of them have never been coached,” Flower said.
“Their environment was all about learning from their mistakes and their
peers without formal coaching – and there may be lessons to be learned

“Part of my new role is doing a bit of work with a couple of fringe players
who have come out of the England side recently, so that when they get their
chance again they are in as good a position as possible to take it. I’ve
also been investigating how to help our best young cricketers understand
what leadership actually is. We seem to expect these young men to be
all-knowing about leadership, strategy, man-management, tactical acuity –
and that is a naive assumption on our part.”

An England player seldom, if ever, gets to captain his county, so the England
captain – like Alastair Cook – comes into the job with little if any
experience of leadership. Flower is also mentoring a couple of English
county coaches, and looking at best practice in coaching and performance in
other organisations. The absence of egotism was an essential element in the
success of Flower, and Fletcher. Flower is no more keen to talk about
himself than about Kevin Pietersen. This is the first interview he has given
since his resignation; he is not planning any tell-all book.

But there is a subject he is keen to talk about. Across the river Anthony Sher
is performing, but as Falstaff, not as Hamlet, Macbeth or Henry V, so there
is nothing currently in Stratford to rival the passionate speech which
Flower delivers about Cook.

“It seems to be forgotten, and people should not forget, that this is a young
man, a 29-year-old man, who has done some extraordinary things for his
country. He has scored the most Test centuries for his country – that in
itself is an amazing achievement, and he’s got so much more left to give.
He’s led the one-day side for a while now and has got the most one-day wins
of any England captain. He’s led the side to an astounding Test victory in
India, against the odds, and in the main on pitches which England have
traditionally struggled on, and tactically he was excellent in India. If he
hadn’t been, we would not have won.

“He has led the England side to a 3-0 Test victory against Australia. I know a
lot of people have dumbed down that Test victory but what would we not give
for a 3-0 victory against Australia now? And this guy is only just embarking
on his leadership career! He is an outstanding cricketer and we, the English
public, should be proud of having Alastair Cook as one of our own, leading
the Test side. They should not be duped into thinking otherwise by those
that have the platform to shout loudest. They should make their own judgment
about a fine, proud Englishman leading the England cricket team.

“He would still acknowledge he is learning all the time. But who of us isn’t
learning? I know I’ve learnt a hell of a lot in the last couple of years and
I’m 46. Who are the ignorant ones? Is it a guy like Alastair or is it the
people who keep making the same mistakes over and over again in their

It would have been nice if the coaches of the MCC and the Rest of the World
sides at Lord’s yesterday had been Flower and Fletcher. Supporters could
have given them the appreciation they deserve for the only major successes
that England have achieved in the all-professional era. Without them, it is
not inconceivable that the Ashes England lost in 1989 would have been held
by Australia ever since.

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Former England coach Andy Flower finds peace coaching local cricket club after traumatic Ashes winter
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