“It must have been cold there in my shadow,
to never have sunlight on your face.
You were content to let me shine, that's your way.
You always walked a step behind.
Did you ever know that you're my hero,
and everything I would like to be?
I can fly higher than an eagle,
'cause you are the wind beneath my wings"
- Wind Beneath My Wings – Bette Midler
Director of Cricket for England Andy Flower, could in all probability bring out these sentiments in the team that he coaches. For in his quiet fashion, he inspires and talks tough without being intrusive. For Flower, the journey has been far from smooth. He took over a rather messed up" England team where ego"s flew and there was an uneasy calm of complacency. The then England captain, arguably one of the most charismatic players in recent times, for the English side (even though he is South African) Kevin Pietersen had fallen out with the coach Peter Moores. In short, things were far from alright. The English Cricket Board then put their faith in the assistant coach Andy Flower and appointed a new captain Andrew Strauss.
Their first tour together to the Caribbean started disastrously with England collapsing for a paltry 51! With that appalling performance , it would be easiest to dismiss them as being a failed pair. But Cricket is an amazing game. When minds are tracked in the right direction, success is guaranteed. Given all the unpredictability, when the team has a coach who quietly instills in them a strong sense of self belief and unadulterated patriotism (despite Flower himself being an outsider) – that team will see light more than not!
The Ashes was by far the toughest test that the Strauss and Flower combine. One knew that the Australian team was nowhere near as daunting as the previous teams that have played the Ashes. This was a young and rather inexperienced squad and they would have to defy all odds to defeat the home side. Given this scenario, the English team would have to take the challenge, head on!
Prior to the Ashes, the Andy Flower" effect was felt loud and clear. That of a stern quietness, as he carefully decided on who would be part of the Ashes England side. There were gambles to be taken. Some would pay, some would not, but they had to be taken.
As a cricket series from a cricket lovers point of view, it was a delightful one. With the pendulum swinging in Australia"s favour some sessions, and in the host"s favour at other times. This was the perfect series, for one to be a neutral observer.
From the first test at Cardiff, there was drama. England was saved from defeat thanks largely to a marathon innings by Paul Collingwood and the heroics of the last two standing batsmen in Monty Panesar and James Anderson, in the 4th Innings of the Test.
The Second Test was played at the Mecca of cricket, Lord"s. It was indeed fitting then that the hosts one handsomely to go one up in the series. The protagonists of this drama largely were the captain Andrew Strauss, Andrew Flintoff, Graeme Swann, Graham Onions and Alistair Cook!
The third test at Edgbaston was a case of even Stevens, where one day was lost to inclement weather. England lost the services of one of the kingpins, Kevin Pietersen, as his Achilles injury, ruled him out of the Ashes. And for the Australians, the quicks had confidence building performances and Michael Clarke was the lone centurion in the test.
Going into the 4th test, the English Cricket management had to take a decision on the fitness levels of Andrew Flintoff. It was a delicate situation and had to be dealt with. Flintoff was a crucial part of the team but to play an unfit player could have an adverse effect. The decision was taken and Freddie had to sit out and watch from the sidelines, as England lost the test by an innings and 80 runs. Andy Flower not one to get upset, did show his complete dissatisfaction when he said, "We are No. 5 in the world for a reason, it's because we are inconsistent, and what happened here is exactly why we are No. 5." He went on to say that the performance by the middle order was just not good enough. In no uncertain terms, they had to fight back hard.
It all boiled down to the final test at the Oval, and the English side would have to pull out an above average performance to win back the Ashes. The team had a thorough reality check of where they were and where they needed to get to, and on a dusty oval pitch they went about their mission. The second day sealed Australia"s fate, as sessions two and three totally belonged to England. The visitors were bowled out for 160 and the rest as they say, is history.
Understandably ecstatic with the Ashes victory the English team was over themselves with joy. There were heroes and their heroics to be celebrated, there were team efforts to be applauded, and then there were characters like Andy Flower, who quietly moved away from the arc lights, to let the boys savour the moments. The players obviously get a high from their individual performances and also the team"s overall, but Flower feels that for the Coach, you feel more nervous, because you cannot do anything physically about the game, you just have to watch, all the time!
Winning the Ashes as England Coach would make anyone feel a sense of achievement, but for Andy Flower the moments keep evolving. The need to stay firmly rooted to ground reality becomes paramount, and this is the message he seems to want to drill home to every team member. Resting on past glories is not the way to go, at least not in the Andy Flower scheme of things".
The 50 over battles have begun with both sides wanting to prove their supremacy in this version of the game. The Australians would want to suck out all their talent, given that they are a young and evolving side. There"ll be no letting up, for they are a hungry team salivating at beating the hosts on home soil. With a two nil lead, they seem to be a pumped up unit alright! And for the hosts, it"s all a matter of pride and a chance to prove that their nerves are indeed made of steel, even in the shorter version of the game.
The English team know that they have to fly high and achieve heights that they know that they reach, and the one man who can get them there by being the wind beneath their wings", is the current director of cricket – Andy Flower !