England Team Director Andy Flower, Zimbabwe’s best-ever batsmen who became the head coach in January following the controversial departure of Peter Moores, was showered with praise by England’s victorious captain Andrew Strauss after his team recorded a 197-run win at The Oval on Sunday for a 2-1 series win.
Moores was dismissed following poor results and a very public falling out with then captain Kevin Pietersen. Flower assumed control of the team officially after England’s 1-0 series loss in the West Indies in April.
"We were in a pretty bad state to be honest with you (when he and Flower teamed up) and it says a huge amount for what Andy Flower has done," Strauss told reporters Sunday at The Oval.
"The way he communicates with the players and drives us, he’s trying to take us to a different place to where we’ve been before and it’s fantastic to be able to work with him. Hopefully we’ve got a long way to go in that respect as well."
Whereas Moores was hands-on and apparently instructive in his dealings with the players, Flower is standoffish, methodical and preaches with a quietness that is obvious in his public press conferences.
Flower scored 4,794 runs in his 63-Test career that ended November 2002, before his famous protest at the 2003 World Cup when he wore a black armband in a match to mark the death of democracy in his homeland.
Flower’s achievements seem to have earned him the kind of respect from the England team Moores could never gain, having failed to play internationally. Strauss detailed the ways in which Flower has made a difference in the team.
"One of the important things is having a vision of where you need to go and that’s something we’ve had to sit down and think about and then the most important thing is driving that vision through," Strauss said.
"You need to get people to buy into this team thing and how important the team is and for those of us that go on the pitch, we can do a certain amount but you need guys behind the scenes pushing it," Strauss said.
"It’s encouraging to me to hear guys in the team speak about this is a fantastic team and once you start getting that feeling you become greater than the sum of your parts," Strauss said. "You will hear very few bad words said about Andy from most of our players."
Having been the cricket world’s unremitting bully-boy for nearly two decades, Australia was brought down to earth with an almighty thud on Sunday, losing the Ashes to old enemy England, and their number one status to boot.
The 197-run loss in the deciding fifth test at the Oval gave the hosts a 2-1 series win, and made Australian captain Ricky Ponting only the second skipper to lose two Ashes series in England since Billy Murdoch in the 19th century.
Ponting did not seek to conceal the pain of failing to make amends for the tourists’ 2-1 defeat in the 2005 series, and nor did Australian media on Monday let him forget it.
"Ashes agony," the Age newspaper groaned on its website (www.theage.com.au), next to a picture of a downcast Ponting and team mate Michael Clarke holding his head in his hands.
"Poms steamroll Aussies to claim Ashes," the Herald Sun tabloid said.
With time-zone disparities making the cricket a sleepless and, ultimately, fruitless labour of love for many television viewers Down Under, police kept a watchful eye in Australian cities for a post-Ashes increase in crime.
"Just after 5am we had some passion over flow," a policeman in the steamy northern town of Darwin told Australia’s ABC News’s website (www.abc.net.au) after an altercation between English and Australian fans led to an arrest for an assault.
"I think they decided to discuss the cricket and it turned physical," Duty Superintendent Mike Murphy added.
"I don’t know which team the victim belongs to."
Along with the outpouring of emotions in the sports-mad country, the distinct sound of knives being sharpened could be heard amid the whinging.
"Let the inquisition begin," the Australian newspaper said, after the loss plummeted the team from first to fourth in the world test rankings behind South Africa, Sri Lanka and India.
Ponting, both lauded and lashed throughout the five-test series, was let off with a slap of the wrist — his captaincy endorsed by a "Who else have we got?" consensus among the press gallery.
While the gritty Tasmanian’s mixed performance may imperil only his Australian of the Year nomination, other personnel were given far shorter shrift.
Mike Hussey, whose 121-run knock on the final day broke his barren patch of form with the bat, was branded a villain for running out his captain and sparking a stunning middle-order collapse.
"Hussey pushed a ball off his hips and made an awful decision to call hesitant non-striker Ponting through for a quick single," the Australian newspaper fumed.
But greater rancour was reserved for the selection panel, castigated for failing to pick a specialist spinner on a sun-baked pitch at the Oval, among other blunders.
"Sack the selectors!" was the clarion call led by former Australian batsman Michael Slater and captain Ian Chapell
"The Australian selectors have faced serious issues right through the series and they have not been solid," Slater told Australian media.
"The selectors need to be made answerable at the end of this campaign."