Flower: England must not wilt
England have delighted Andy Flower with their winning exploits this summer but can be sure too that their team director will continue to set new challenges and standards.
Yet the coach of this year’s Ashes winners and world number one Test team warns those who want to remain central to England’s plans for further improvement must demonstrate they have the “hunger” to do so.
Flower watched 21-year-old debutant Jonathan Bairstow emerge as England’s next potential star, clearing the Cardiff boundary three times in an unbeaten 41 from only 21 balls as the hosts concluded this summer’s unexpected domination of the previous Test number ones and World Cup-holders.
Already, though, the Zimbabwean is intent on ensuring his charges are ready first of all for next week’s Twenty20 international against West Indies - and then October’s one-day international rematch with India.
“The summer couldn’t have gone much better, and we have got some great results over the last couple of years - so I am delighted,” said Flower.
“But at the risk of repeating ourselves, we don’t just want to put our feet up and say, ‘Gee, it’s a lovely little time we have had together’.”
As for anyone even contemplating a note of self-satisfaction at a job undoubtedly very well done this summer, let alone any outright slacking, that simply will not be tolerated.
“If people aren’t hungry enough then I don’t think they will keep up with the side,” Flower said. “They will drop out or be dropped out.
“The hunger is very important - it drives you to train harder, it drives you to get out of bed early in the morning. It drives you to do the extra work and your skills practice, to keep the weight off your body. It drives you to be inquisitive about maximising your potential.
“If there is any self-satisfaction or too much contentment it can take you into a dangerous place. Our philosophy is to look forward and at the challenges ahead as opposed to those behind us. If you do look behind you, you are not planning properly for the future.”
That is not to say Bairstow, at least, ought not to be able to give himself a small pat on the back.
“He should be very proud of his performance, and it is great to make an impact in international cricket straightaway,” said Flower. “But let’s all keep level heads about it. Talk is cheap.
“He did it with his actions but he will continually be asked questions to repeat his performances out there in the middle when the pressure is on.
“It was very clean and impressive hitting. Not many people can strike it as cleanly as that. Not many people are that talented.”
While Bairstow has a near-immediate opportunity to consolidate his wonderful start in international cricket, Test captain Andrew Strauss has another three months before he is required again - against Pakistan in the United Arab Emirates in January.
He and ODI captain Alastair Cook can prepare for their winter assignments full of confidence as England continue to thrive in all formats.
Flower believes Strauss can continue for several years yet in charge of the Test team.
“Of course, it’s a performance environment - but he’s playing good cricket,” Flower said. “He’s just scored his career-best first-class score and is an outstanding leader for us.
“We have to plan ahead, but there are absolutely no guarantees for any of us. At the moment, we have a very good Test team - and he’s the leader. He’s a good age. He can play some of his best cricket in the next few years.”
Cook has made many, including some experts, eat their words by adapting his Test batsmanship admirably to the demands of 50-over cricket this summer.
Flower said: “I thought Cook handled the pressure around the one-day captaincy incredibly well when he was questioned - even by ex-England captains - about his place as a one-day player, let alone captain. It has been a very healthy six months for us.”