Flower excited by all-round England
England can switch attentions from NatWest Series success back to Test cricket, with a glowing endorsement from team director Andy Flower that they remain on an upward curve in all formats.
Flower today corroborated the evidence of International Cricket Council world rankings - which have England up in third after their 4-0 win over top-of-the-table Australia.
He is especially encouraged to conclude lessons have been learned from previous experience, notably adaptable batsmanship against the spin which undermined England in their own 5-0 one-day international defeat away to India last autumn.
Home comforts have clearly suited them, and the ICC’s new playing condition of a new ball at either end played into the hands of their seam attack in a cloudy and rainy mid-summer.
Even so, Flower can retrain his sights on a three-Test series against South Africa safe in the knowledge that improvements have been made in the 50-over format and that Alastair Cook’s team will remain inquisitive about how they can continue to get better.
“I’m really happy not only with the result but with the way we played,” said Flower on the day after England completed their trouncing of Australia with a seven-wicket win under lights at Old Trafford.
“It’s important sometimes when you lose to evaluate yourself and how you played as well, and then the same when you win. Our batsmen have scored consistently and skilfully, and our bowlers have not only restricted Australia but have been able to take wickets.
“So the one-day package looked strong and organised and very well led by Alastair Cook, I thought.”
England’s batsmen tamed both a much-hyped Australia pace attack and the first and second-string spin of Xavier Doherty, opposing captain Michael Clarke, David Hussey and Steven Smith.
The threat posed by them, in familiar rather than sub-continental conditions, may be reduced from that of India and Pakistan’s spin exponents last winter.
Flower said: “Certainly our guys are more adept at home conditions, of course, like most countries.
“But I also think we have learned some lessons, and players have been good enough to continue their learning as individuals. It’s been really nice to see how some of them are developing.
“If you look at the skill, some of it we have against their spinners - and last night is a good example of that.
“The way that (Ravi) Bopara, Cook, (Ian) Bell - not (just) last night but through the series - have played their spinners, one really exciting aspect we could identify is the fact that experienced cricketers are continually learning.
“That’s really exciting for them, and rewarding for coaches to see as well.”
England chose to rest their own first-choice spinner Graeme Swann, for the final two matches, to ensure some respite for his sore elbow.
James Tredwell replaced him yesterday, to significant effect, as he and medium-pacer Bopara shared four wickets in Manchester.
“It was nice to see Tredwell take Swann’s spot and bowl as skilfully and cannily as he did,” added Flower.
Clarke admitted several times over the past two weeks that his tourists were being outplayed, and gave particular mention to the skills of England’s seam attack - led by Steven Finn.
Flower praised his bowlers, but believes too they could have performed even better.
That, and England’s occasional fielding lapses, are minor qualms - ones Flower understands as occupational hazards, but which he knows his team will and must address nonetheless.
“To be quite frank, and I think (bowling coach) David Saker would agree, I don’t think we bowled at our best,” said Flower. “The bowlers would think that as well.”
Three catches were also spilled last night, but none costly.
“You’ll never be perfect, because of the nature of the game,” said Flower.
“We are human beings and will always drop catches. But it’s important that we’re always pushing hard and pushing our training hard - and that will never go away.”