When Third Man met James Whitaker last summer at Loughborough he seem resolved to act. He appeared to know what the players wanted and what was needed. They wanted to be left to their own professional resources, to be free to take responsibility for their individual and team performances.
They wanted to be in control from the moment of their selection. They wanted clear permissions to play the game their own way, to express their own talent. As an ex-pro with a good mind he knew the value of this.
But he and Downton seemed to have accepted that they had to work within the framework given to them by Clarke viz, the Flowers managerial, incremental improvement philosophy.
It might be the way Flower thought cricket should be managed. But he had lost sight, in his development as a coach, of how he himself had flourished as a remarkable player. The captain/manager in him took control of the batsman in him.
And Flower had convinced The Powers That Be, and of course he had recruited an army of ‘staff’ to back him up and impose his methodology. Those who couldn’t play within this regime either suffered chronic loss of form or were discarded as potential destabilizing forces. Moores was and is a Flower cipher.
Whitaker and Downton didn’t think they could challenge this power and those decisions. They were wrong. They spent 15 months assuaging that force instead of taking it on.
If they have now been ‘forced’ into change for defensive reasons rather from seeing experience the falsity of the efficacy of the Flower approach, then, there will be no further change. And England’s agony will continue in every form of the game in the months to come.
But if together they have seen that change must happen then they will be planning a total transformation of the England set up; in a way that puts talent first and the requirements of talent as the first consideration.
No longer will players fear the laptop and every other assessment of their performance. They will see the evidence of analysis as an aid and not as an inquisition. The information gathered will be theirs to exploit or to reject if they so wish. Nothing must get in the way of their instincts, of their mental and physical reactions which they have honed over the years.
They must be allowed to wear themselves rather than forced into some identikit of a ‘world class cricketer’ produced by Big Data.
The new England cricketing culture they produce must be Nelsonian: “Engage the enemy more closely”. The purpose of cricket: joy. The first requirement: zeal. The means: Attack!
It requires a team of Millennials and their job is to create opportunities for these young blades to play without fear. The cricket of tomorrow will grow from T20. The up-coming World Cup will be as ‘revolutionary’ as the world cup won by Sri Lanka in 1996. It will be the first World Cup that truly expresses the lessons of T20 innovations. Batting and bowling attacks will stand toe to toe with never a step back by either.
This is the new cricketing world into which England will either dash or dither. Not in the next six weeks but in the next six years. If transformation is continuous, all concerned must be given time, becuase it will take time.
Let’s hope today was a first step and not a tactical retreat in-order to advance again over an unimportant bit of No Man’s Land.
And a sign that this is happening? That change is endemic? For a start, a dressing room which during the hours of play is the privileged preserve of 12 players and one coach.