Friday, March 20, 2009

Flower must develop winning habit to secure top job

Andy Flower's good relationship with Andrew Strauss should not disguise England's failings against West Indies
So, here we are, the second half of March and England are yet to win a proper game of cricket this winter. This five-match one-day series is crucial, not just for the players' self-belief ahead of a huge summer, but for Andy Flower's chances of becoming coach on a full-time basis. It seems clear that he's developed a good understanding with Andrew Strauss – and after the shenanigans with Peter Moores and Kevin Pietersen that's no bad thing – but coaches should not be appointed because they get on with people. They should be appointed because they have a proven track record.

I've said before that the England coaching role is the top job in world cricket because of the scrutiny you come under and the expectations involved. I find it odd that the England and Wales Cricket Board needed to employ a firm of headhunters to get their man, but now that's the case you would imagine an impressive CV would be one of the chief requirements. I know Flower has worked a bit with Essex, but surely the ECB are looking for more than that. I may be wrong. Flower may be worth a gamble. But the facts are that England have so far struggled against a pretty ordinary side out in the Caribbean. If by the end of the one-day series there are still no signs of improvement, it would feel very strange indeed to name Flower as coach.

People say there is a lack of credible alternatives but one name that was mentioned for a while and now seems to have been forgotten is Graham Ford. He had success with Natal and South Africa – those CV points to impress the headhunters – and he was at Kent too, so it's not hard for the ECB to get information about him. The fact that he was apparently Kevin Pietersen's choice is irrelevant: England should choose the best man for the job, not the bloke whose connections are least likely to embarrass the ECB. Eric Simons is another name I'd like to see considered – a guy who has done well with both Western Province and South Africa.

The dressing room's first task must be to get the decision-making right. It was crazy to replace Matt Prior, who would have been full of confidence after doing well in the Trinidad Test, with Steve Davies for last Sunday's Twenty20 game. Prior needs the chance to prove himself at the top of the order: guys need time to settle into roles. As I've said so often in the past, chopping and changing is not the way to go.

Then there was the shot selection. England's batsmen didn't stick to the basics on Sunday. They over-elaborated. Davies was actually playing quite well, so why on earth would you walk six inches outside off stump and get bowled behind your legs by a delivery that actually deflected on to the wicket off the pads? That's how far he moved.

Someone in the dressing room has to take control of that and tell the batters that, if you're going to move, move towards the ball, not away from it or into the line of it. They have to keep things simple.

I spoke before the India tour about the way to bat on slow, low pitches and there has to be a chance, given what we've seen so far, that the surfaces for the five games ahead will fit into that category. It's essential to wait that bit longer and not go so hard at the ball. Play square of the wicket and play late, almost when the ball is under your eyes. Use your wrists to generate bat-speed and deflect the ball into gaps. And, please, don't move around too much. On these pitches, you need a solid base from which to get your hips into the shot and make proper contact with the ball.

If England think hard about the way they play, I still believe they can win this series. There must be a danger of West Indian complacency after all that's happened in recent weeks, and who would have thought that at the start of the series? I think England can get it together, whether it's under the captaincy of Strauss or, if his hamstring problem recurs, Pietersen – regardless of how he lost the job.

But if they don't get it together, the questions that are already being asked will get more serious. People talk about my last winter in charge as not being a successful one, but at least we managed to beat Australia in their own backyard in the Commonwealth Bank Series.

As things stand, England are yet to beat one of the weakest teams in world cricket. I'm just hoping we don't end up looking back at this winter as one of England's worst ever.

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