Home » Sport

Andy Flower: A great deal more than a very fine coach

Tuesday, 4 February 2014 - 5:01pm IST | Agency: Daily Telegraph
Contribution of Flower is much misunderstood in wake of Ashes humiliation - he is a hard act to follow, writes Steve James.
  • Andy Flower AFP

"It all ended in tears." Those were the words with which one Zimbabwean former coach of England began his autobiography. Duncan Fletcher was talking about the day in Barbados when he informed the England players of his decision to step down before their final match in the 2007 World Cup.

It was not just Fletcher. Michael Vaughan, captain at the time, texted Dean Conway, the physiotherapist, to say: "I can't believe I have just cried in front of grown-ups."

That Fletcher shed a tear at all was a surprise to those eager to cling to his dour and unemotional public persona. But those who know him better are aware that, although he can be extremely serious and hard-nosed, he can also be downright mischievous. He does laugh, you know. And he could have the last laugh on England this summer when his India side return here anxious for revenge after the 4-0 Test hammering in 2011.

All this came to mind reading an excellent piece by Andrew Strauss about Andy Flower. Strauss was responding to Flower's resignation as England team director on Friday and the fallout after the Ashes whitewash, a result that ultimately had done for Fletcher, too, in 2006-07.

"I can't help feeling that Flower has been misunderstood," Strauss wrote. Too right he has, judging by the very harsh BBC News comment on Friday that his regime had become "arrogant and joyless".

I am pretty sure it was without too much joy this winter. Defeat does not usually come dressed as a comedian. Even less so when it is the sort of shellacking England have suffered.

Strauss stressed Flower's sympathetic side. "He cared about his players deeply," Strauss wrote. "He cared about the support staff. He cared about the ECB, and he cared about the counties."

He cares deeply about his mates, too. Flower and I go back a long way, to winters spent playing cricket in Zimbabwe and drinking too many Castle lagers. Even the vicissitudes of the journalist-coach relationship have not damaged that friendship. Well, not too much anyway.

Just over two years ago, my mother passed away in late November. Christmas that year was hard, as you would expect. But late on Christmas Day I was sitting alone in my study when my phone rang. It was Flower. "It must have been tough for you today, mate," he said. "How are you feeling?" And such sensitivity was repeated last week when speaking to Flower about his resignation. He seemed just as concerned about asking after my ill father.

The problem with cricket coaches is that they are often misunderstood by the wider public because they rarely have anything good to talk about. Members of the English press used to giggle about "Duncan days" when Fletcher would speak to them, but they were always after bad days, when Fletcher wanted to protect his players. When a player did well, quite naturally he would speak. Fletcher's relationship with the media was virtually non-existent by the time his England tenure ended, and it would be fair to say that Flower's relationship deteriorated over time. It began well enough, but there was a growing frustration among the media about his number of appearances in front of them.

That made me chuckle, if I am honest, if only because it proved that Fletcher and Flower are more similar than they would probably like to admit. Compatriots they may be, but there were times in that 2011 series when they clashed. "Christmas cards are unlikely to be exchanged," I wrote in a book about the pair that probably should be not be name-checked, since the last time I did so in this column I was rebuked for my shameless self-publicity. Now, if I was really into braggadocio, I might mention this comment from the end of that book in 2012: "Give Flower no more than two years, I reckon."

In fairness, the split role with Ashley Giles that precipitated Flower's resignation as much as the 5-0 drubbing had not been mooted then, but familial concerns had.

However, having tipped England to win the Six Nations, any proven predictions must be cherished right now. One I can be sure of is that iterated in the final two sentences of that book, which talks of following Fletcher and Flower (without too much disrespect to the Peter Moores interregnum): "They will be big boots to fill. Very big boots indeed."

 


Jump to comments

Around the web