England coach Andy Flower (L) and Test skipper Andrew Strauss guided England to their first Ashes win Down Under after a gap of 24 years © Getty Images

 

By Nishad Pai Vaidya

 

In any team sport, the coach-captain relationship is of the utmost importance for the success of the entire unit. The coach is a kind of a father figure who guides his team, gives his players suggestions and also plays the role of a friend in the hour of need. The captain, on the other hand, is the man who has to lead his team on the field and take tough decisions off it. Thus, for any team, the two need to form a unique partnership to blend into a successful unit. The two Andrews of England, coach Flower and captain Strauss have forged a very strong partnership over the years as England continue their march towards the top spot in the Test rankings.

 

Twelve years ago, Duncan Fletcher took over as England coach when they were dubbed the “worst team in the world.” He struck a good relationship with Nasser Hussain as they revived England from the slump. When Hussain gave up captaincy and Michael Vaughan took his place, Fletcher formed a successful partnership with him as well as England went from strength to strength as a Test team.

 

In early 2009, the England team management was in disarray as the then coach, Peter Moores, and captain Kevin Pietersen had a bitter spat which led to both of them being given the boot. Andy Flower was appointed the interim coach for England’s tour to the West Indies, after which an even bigger promotion came his way i.e. the post of the Team Director. Strauss was appointed England captain in all forms of the game and, more importantly, he was recalled into the One-Day set-up after almost two years.

 

In their first-ever Test at the helm, in the West Indies, England were bundled out for 51. Powered by the force of Jerome Taylor, West Indies recorded a fantastic win. Flower and Strauss needed to script a strong recovery as the shadow of the Moores-Pietersen spat still loomed large. From then on we witnessed a complete turnaround from England as they put in spirited performances in the rest of the series. Strauss led from the front, scoring 541 runs and three hundreds along the way. It wasn’t enough to save the series as West Indies held firm to clinch it 1-0. However, the Strauss-Flower combination had impressed one and all on their first outing and a lot was expected with a packed schedule that followed.

 

Although England haven’t done as well in One-Day Internationals (ODIs) as they have in Tests, they showed glimpses of what they can do on their day in the shorter version of the game. They could have done very well at the World Cup had they not had a very grueling tour to Australia just prior to the big tournament. But that doesn’t take away the fact that England have become an even stronger Test match unit under them.

 

In 2004-05, England were on a fantastic run under the Vaughan-Fletcher regime but lost their way after the Ashes 2005 triumph because of injuries etc. In comparison, the Strauss-Flower successful run has lasted longer and already accounts for two Ashes victories more importantly one of them in Australia. The most pertinent point is that they haven’t lost a Test series since West Indies 2009 which just goes to show that they are in command of their jobs.

 

England’s Test assignments since the tour to the West Indies 2009:

 

Team Host Nation Result
West Indies England 2-0
Australia England 2-1
South Africa South Africa 1-1
Bangladesh* Bangladesh 2-0
Bangladesh England 2-0
Pakistan England 3-1
Australia Australia 3-1
Sri Lanka** England                            1-0

 

*Strauss was rested for this series. Alastair Cook led in his place.

 

**Third Test of the series in progress at the time of writing. England lead the series 1-0.

 

The best part about all these triumphs is that most of the wins have been by a huge margin, like the Ashes series Down Under. All three victories that England earned were by an innings which just shows the strength of the team built by the two men.

 

A major factor to their success is the fact that none of them has tried to hog the limelight. More importantly, Flower has gone about doing his job quietly in the background which is what a coach should do. We all know what happens when a coach tries to hog the limelight, ala Greg Chappell. They have also shown good man-management skills which leaders require leading a successful team. The Steve Davies issue just showed how these two can handle the toughest situations with players.

 

So far, Strauss and Flower have passed in every test thrown at them. A big challenge awaits them as the No 1 ranked side in Test cricket, India, will tour England in July. There is no doubt that it is going to be a keenly-fought contest and their roles will become even more crucial as they will face their biggest test at home in two years. In the ongoing Sri Lanka series England have shown the ruthlessness required for success and this is what this unique partnership has injected into English cricket. The Strauss-Flower partnership is destined for much greater success.

 

(Nishad Pai Vaidya, a 20-year-old law student, is a club and college-level cricketer. His teachers always complain, “He knows the stats and facts of cricket more than the subjects we teach him.”)