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Flower Picked to Lead England Forward
England, under new team director, seek revenge for West Indies defeat
Matthew James Weir (mweir)     Print Article 
Published 2009-05-06 10:40 (KST)   
In the end, England plumped for the favourite, the in-house candidate who had performed the role to such underwhelming results in the Caribbean. The appointment of Andy Flower to the newly titled role of England team director was met with approval from the media, who welcomed his more open style, and disappointment from fans who had sought a bigger name, one not tainted by association with the previous regime of Peter Moores.

One of the biggest knocks on Moores, at least by his captain Kevin Pietersen, was his lack of international experience. This is a charge that cannot be levelled at Flower, a veteran of well over 50 tests and 200 One-Day Internationals (ODIs). Whilst he might have played for perennial minnows Zimbabwe, Flower has a higher test average and scored more ODI runs than any living Englishman.

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Flower has also played domestic first class cricket in three continents, giving him a depth of international experience that Moores, a product of English county cricket, could never match. Add in Flower's incredible test record in India, where he averages over 100 (he also averages over 100 in Bangladesh) and it is little wonder that even Pietersen was won over by his credentials and knowledge, having initially been sceptical of Flower and associating him with the doomed Moores era.

Moores was also an in-house appointment and the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) were heavily criticised after his appointment for not advertising and interviewing for the role. This time they attempted to insulate themselves from such criticism by appointing headhunters to seek out outside candidates.

Ironically, appointing headhunters to widen the search appeared to shorten the list of candidates rather than lengthen. The delay caused by this process saw early favourite -- of Pietersen at least -- Graham Ford pull out (although as Pietersen's preferred candidate he may have been politically unacceptable), whilst West Indies coach John Dyson shot himself in the foot during the ODI series against England by misreading the Duckworth-Lewis tables. With Mickey Arthur's interest seemingly more to do with extracting a pay-rise from his native South Africa, it is hard to imagine what viable candidates remained if Dav Whatmore could not be persuaded to take on a third international team.

With candidates falling by the wayside and Flower gaining plaudits, if not results, his coronation turned into a formality.

Flower's influence already appears to be showing in the three squads announced over the last week. There are new call ups for no fewer than three of his former Essex team-mates.

Instead of howls of Essex nepotism, these call-ups have largely been welcomed. In part this is a testament to Essex's standing as probably the foremost one-day side in the country. A significant factor in this has been the form of wicketkeeper James Foster and opening bowler Graham Napier and both are rewarded with spots in England's 20:20 world cup squad, although neither have made it to the ODI squad -- yet.

Napier is better known for his prodigious hitting exploits -- he hit 152 including a world record 16 sixes in one 20:20 game last year -- but his real strength lies with his bowling which can touch 90mph.

His county colleague Foster has long been recognised as England's best gloveman, and a key part of Essex's one-day success has been to utilise his ability to stand up to all but the quickest bowlers in order to pin batsmen back in the crease. His selection therefore hints that England will be looking to take the pace off the ball. With Graeme Swann the lone specialist spinner in the squad, this suggests important roles for the likes of Collingwood, Bopara, Mascarenhas and Pietersen, whose bowling in the IPL surprisingly eclipsed his batting.

Test Ahead

Attention for now, however, will be focused on the test team. Here Flower's big call was recalling a third Essex man, Ravi Bopara, and promoting him to the troublesome number three spot in the order.

If Flower was a valuable ally in Bopara's corner, the other candidates for this spot will all have had their supporters. Owais Shah, the man deposed after a disappointing tour of the Caribbean, is a county colleague of England skipper Andrew Strauss; Ian Bell plays for Ashley Giles at Warwickshire; whilst Michael Vaughan was perhaps the odd one out, now that two of his biggest fans, Duncan Fletcher and Kevin Pietersen, are no longer coach and captain respectively.

Having hit a hundred in his only test innings this winter, Bopara was harshly dropped for the final test. England have now belatedly realised their error in picking Shah over Bopara for that test and have rectified their mistake. Neither Shah nor Bopara has played a first class innings since the end of that tour, but whilst Shah was unable to get a game in the Indian Premier League, Bopara dazzled in a man of the match winning performance for his franchise. The surprise therefore is not so much Bopara's inclusion as his promotion up the order from six, to his county spot of three.

Matt Prior, man of the match in his last outing, has been retained as wicketkeeper but the inclusion of Foster in the 20:20 side will serve as a warning that England under Flower, himself a former batsman-wicketkeeper more in the mould of Prior than Foster, may place a higher emphasis on keeping over batting. Here the fitness of Flintoff seems critical as without Flintoff, England must surely pick Prior at six if they wish to go into the test with five bowlers.

The five bowlers England are set to call upon for the Lords test looks like including two debutants. This assumes that England do not opt for a twin spin attack of Swann and Panesar, which would surely be unthinkable in May. Panesar would be the likely man to be left out, in favour of Swann's ability to turn it away from the left-handers and his extra batting.

Joining Swann, Anderson and Broad would then be Durham's Graham Onions and Yorkshire's Tim Bresnan.

After an injury restricted 2008, Onions was something of a surprise selection, but the selectors appeared to have done their homework as on the very day the squad was announced, he justified his selection by taking six for 31 at Taunton, on a pitch better known as a bowlers' graveyard. Bowling a full length and hitting speeds in the mid to high 80s, he certainly out-bowled his county colleague Steve Harmison. If the selectors aim was to pick the man in form, they could hardly have made a better selection.

Like Onions, Yorkshire's Tim Bresnan has been out-bowling a former England bowler in domestic cricket, in this case Matthew Hoggard. Bresnan saw England action in limited overs cricket back in 2006 and appeared out of his depth, but has improved considerably since then. Still only 24, Bresnan has been around for a long time, having debuted for Yorkshire as far back as 2001, he played an astonishing 30 times for England at u19 level, but now seems to be fulfilling his talent not just as a bowler, but as an increasingly useful lower order batsman.

England will be expecting to win, but then they were expecting to win in the West Indies as well.

©2009 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Matthew James Weir

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