Sunday 17 December 2017

Cricket: Flower has even higher hopes for Ashes stars

England are eyeing the world No 1 spot, writes Vic Marks

England luxuriated in the wake of victory in Sydney last week, but not for long.

Andrew Strauss has a week off before rejoining the squad in Melbourne; Alastair Cook is heading home with Monty Panesar, which seems odd, but the selection for the one-day series was made before the monumental nature of Cook's feats became apparent. Jimmy Anderson, the nearest rival to Cook for the man of the series, is also popping back to England again for a fortnight.

Matt Prior is going to play in the Twenty20 Big Bash for Victoria. The rest, having said goodbye to their families, were setting off for Canberra and their 50-over fixture against the Prime Minister's XI, the solitary match before the one-day internationals get under way this week (there will be two Twenty20 matches followed by seven 50-over contests).

Team director, Andy Flower, will not be letting his players luxuriate for long. He is as well-grounded as an ostrich, though his head is seldom found in the sand. For him, the celebrations were now over and the time to put this Ashes victory in the context of his distinguished career in cricket was probably "after I've finished this job".

However, Flower remains ambitious. "Our ultimate goal is to be No 1. It's realistic. It's achievable." In the Test rankings England are at three, behind India and South Africa. This summer England play India, as well as Sri Lanka, which represents a fine opportunity to narrow that gap.

Like most good cricket coaches, Flower remains as anonymous as possible. He and his back-room staff were conspicuously absent during the celebrations at the SCG. "It is the 11 players who step over the line and who have to make decisions under pressure," he said. "To be out on the ground afterwards is the place for those players. The captain did get us up on the podium and we appreciated that." Then they disappeared again.

After the 2009 victory Flower made a point of not going overboard. He had witnessed from afar the excesses of 2005 and would not be trapped into any repetition. "Of course that 2009 victory was special", he says. "But we are a better team now than we were then. Winning in Australian conditions has been a much better achievement and we won in a far more emphatic way. Everyone should be very proud."

But that was yesterday. Flower keeps looking forward. When England won the Ashes in 2009, they were subsequently trounced by Australia in the one-day games. "They were a much better one-day side than us, but we have improved since then," he said.

There is also the World Cup around the corner. Flower said that he would be mindful of what is required on the sub-continent when that competition gets under way in five weeks' time, as well as trying to beat Australia, who are still ranked No 1 in the 50-over format. "We are nowhere near the top in the one-day game, but with our brand of cricket we have a chance."

One immediate source of concern for Flower is the IPL auction, which is now taking place and that might well include the majority of his players. "The IPL is a tricky subject for us because I personally don't blame any of the players for wanting to go there and to look for that pay day. But it is tricky because the schedules are so heavy and rest is sometimes as important as the hard training that we put them through. This applies especially to our front-line attack and they have made themselves available for the IPL this year."

Here the spotlight is on Anderson in particular. His importance to the England team has mushroomed over the past 18 months. Moreover, there is the dodgy scenario of Anderson going home for a fortnight now but being eager to play in the IPL in April. Flower recognises the pitfalls.

"He needs his rest right now, there's no doubt about that. So we can't say because you're going to the IPL we're going to play you through these games. If we don't rest him right now there is a significant chance he will break down. He has just played five Tests in a row and that's a magnificent achievement in itself."

It is a tricky problem, but a pinprick compared to the difficulties facing Flower's peers in the Australia set-up. Even so there is every chance that Flower, on the journey to Canberra, was turning over in his mind how best to deal with the issue. He never stops.

Observer

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