Zimbabwe Cricket Legend Leading Contender For England Coaching Job

LONDON – Results in the West Indies will not count against Andy Flower when the ECB comes to decide the new England head coach over the next month. The last time England had a succeful cricket campaign, another Zimbabwean legend Duncan Fletcher was the gaffer.

Flower is the frontline candidate, despite his inexperience, to replace Peter Moores and the surprising loss of the Test series in the Caribbean was a potential blot on his application.

Hugh Morris, the managing director of England cricket, is here for the deciding one-day international tomorrow and praised Flower, the batting coach under Moores, for the way he has quietly earned the respect of players and management since taking temporary charge after the drama of the first week of the year.

The ECB has drawn up “a fairly short shortlist” for the revamped job and has laid down detailed specifications to avoid confusion and conflict in the relationship between captain and coach. Ambiguities meant that Moores could not strike a harmonious balance with either Michael Vaughan or Kevin Pietersen.

Flower may face strong competition from more established figures in the international game such as Mickey Arthur, the South Africa coach who has supervised recent victories in England and Australia, and Gary Kirsten, who is pushing India forward.  

The problem for Morris and the board is the proximity of the Ashes series, soon after the World Twenty20 in England. According to the ECB mission statement the priority in Test cricket is to beat Australia by 2011, as opposed to being top of the ICC rankings. Any newcomer would have little time to prepare.

Morris also revealed yesterday that the coach — or performance director to use the new title — will have a free hand to review the entire England set-up. That may mean significant, expensive and untimely changes to the backroom team including Flower himself, Ottis Gibson, the bowling coach, and Richard Halsall, the fielding coach.

“The ECB has to support the new man as much as possible in terms of the people and personnel he wants around him, and give him the resources to do the most important job in England cricket,” Morris said. “It is fundamentally important that he has a clear vision of where he wants to take the team, hand in hand with the captain.

“The Ashes are a massive consideration, but we do want to take it beyond that as well. We cannot just take a short-term approach. Too often in the past we have created really good teams who have done well over a short period of time. What we want is sustainable success, somebody who can take us in that direction.”

John Buchanan and Tom Moody declined invitations to apply, and Graham Ford, the candidate favoured by Pietersen, pulled out last week citing the length of the process. Morris said: “It would be unfair on the management in the Caribbean now to have a beauty parade going on during the tour.”

The job is the best-paid of its kind in the world, with a salary of about £300,000 a year, and some international coaches may be happy for their boards to think they are in contention to improve their own standing. John Dyson, of West Indies, declined three times with increasing curtness on Sunday to say whether he has been formally approached.

Any ambitious and confident coach will see England’s standing in sixth place in the ICC Test ratings as huge underachievement given the resources available and will expect to climb swiftly. There are comparisons to the start of the Duncan Fletcher regime in 1999, although Fletcher did not face Australia until 2001.

Critical to success will be the fitness of the bowlers, and England suffered a setback when Amjad Khan went home on Tuesday night with suspected cartilage damage in his knee. Ryan Sidebottom also faces a potentially lengthy absence having undergone an operation on his Achilles tendon. The Times (UK)