Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 18 September 2014

The Ashes: England can climb to number one, says Flower

To have a prayer of provoking essential change in English cricket it is always advisable to speak from a position of strength.

This does not mean that anything will actually happen but there is less likelihood of being kicked out of ECB headquarters at Lord's and made to walk the streets of St John's Wood naked until you repent.

There is probably no stronger position than to be coach of the team that has just retained the Ashes in Australia as well as being Twenty20 world champions, so when Andy Flower spoke yesterday of the defective system for delivering international players he has a chance of being heard.

As Australia are discovering to their cost, the time to effect change is at the top of the pole not on the greasy slide down when it is almost invariably much too late.

Although the Ashes can still be drawn, the soul searching has begun in earnest because for the first time in 24 years the national team have failed to win the urn at home.

The reasons why are being traced back to failing to build for the future when times were good and allowing ageing cricketers to grow too old together as well as allowing too many older players to extend their careers in the domestic game.

No doubt it was these issues that Flower had in mind when he addressed the burning topic of whether England have what it takes to be the world's number one side.

“Yes I think we have, definitely,” he said. “There's a lot of talent in English cricket. I'm not sure if the structure of English cricket is perfect for delivering Test cricketers. We've definitely got a talented group here and there is talent in the counties that we see. We think they can do special things.

“I hope it's not a battle ground between England and the counties. But there is an issue there because the first-class system as a business doesn't seem efficient in England at the moment. It doesn't work financially from what I can see. So allocation of resources is going to be a tough one to balance for the decision-makers.”

Flower will presumably address his points to the appropriate committees when he has the opportunity. He may well take along Australia as a necessary warning. All connected with the England team are anxious not to get ahead of themselves because they are only 2-1 ahead in the series with the last match still to play, starting in Sydney on Monday. In Australia, however, they are holding up the Poms as an exemplar of how to run a national cricket team.

Flower's point is that he has a decent group of players whom he has helped mould but that it is not made easy.

“It's not a new subject, it's an old subject,” he said. “I don't think every individual needs to come into the England set-up to improve. We've seen instances of guys coming in and doing well straight away. There are lots of examples so there must be lots of good stuff happening in the first-class game.”

In Australia they are lamenting the numbers of young, talented sportsmen lost to Aussie Rules football and in England it is equally possible that potentially gifted cricketers are slipping through the nets. Flower added: “One of the best things that has happened in this series is that a guy like Broad has got injured and Tremlett has stepped straight into the breach and fronted up out there in the middle under pressure.”

England, Flower and his colleagues have delivered on an important part of their promise. It is time for the counties to respond accordingly. Look what happened to Australia.

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