Flower: Ashes is just the beginning
If England’s 2009 Ashes heroes have any difficulty keeping their feet on the ground after their triumph, they need only spend a minute or two with team director Andy Flower.
Four years ago, Michael Vaughan’s England team were feted through the streets of London, at Lord’s, at Downing Street and eventually at Buckingham Palace, where they received their OBEs and MBEs after the New Year’s Honours list.
Unfortunately, the thrill of winning the Ashes for the first time in a generation did not sustain them through a tough following winter in the sub-continent, and by the time it came to defending the urn in Australia, they proved well short of the task.
The subsequent consensus has been that the new fame and adulation did not necessarily help.
Behind the throne four years ago was a coaching compatriot of Flower’s, Duncan Fletcher, a man hardly renowned for his fist-pumping celebrations.
The earnest Flower’s style does not appear entirely dissimilar, and his understated response to England’s npower series-clinching 197-run win at the Brit Oval yesterday is a sure-fire antidote to over-reaction of any kind.
“It’s worked out okay. But you don’t want to go overboard,” he warned.
Flower’s response is not an act of wilful repression simply for the sake of it. There is good reason for his balanced assessment, namely the inconsistencies England have demonstrated since he took on his job at the start of this year.
“Three days ago, we were bowled out for 300,” he noted, recalling England’s first innings at the Oval. “If we hadn’t bowled them out for 160 in the first ‘dig’ you’d be saying very different things.”
Invited to laud his and his team’s achievements, Flower allows himself only minor indulgence.
“It’s great, and we’re very proud of ourselves,” he insisted, quietly.
As for those reservations, though, he knows England need only look back to their comprehensive fourth-Test defeat at Headingley Carnegie to be sure much hard work lies ahead.
Yet Flower is heartened too by the quick and telling response to a setback.
“Leeds was quite a blow. It was a bit of a shock playing like that,” he admitted. “But we got together after that game, before we all dispersed, and talked about it.
“I think we needed to get some closure on that game there and then, before we all disappeared to various parts of the country.
“The guys had a good look at themselves, and you could see the commitment and determination that they brought to the final Test.”
Their vindication has once again sent a nation into raptures over Ashes success. But Flower does not sense any repeat of the 2005 excesses.
“I think the guys will be fine,” he claimed. “They’re pretty mature and they haven’t got time to rest on their laurels.
“There is strong competition for places, so there’s no place for complacency.”
For Flower himself, once the world’s number one ranked Test batsman in his playing days, helping England win the Ashes has provided as much satisfaction as he got from keeping Zimbabwe competitive for a decade or so.
“As a player, you do get highs from your own personal performance and obviously also the team’s,” he conceded.
“As a coach, it’s exactly the same - except you’re a hell of a lot more nervous, because you can’t do anything physically about it; you’re just sitting there, watching, all the time.”
Flower’s release finally came with a Thames-side jog this morning, when he was delighted to receive recognition and acknowledgement for his part in England’s victory.
“I just went for a half-hour run up and down the river a little - I needed to get out,” he explained.
“Some of the guys on their way to the office were shouting, ‘Well done’ and that sort of stuff. It was brilliant.”
If Flower’s England continue to blossom, as many anticipate, he may have to dust off a few more outlandish adjectives.