Cricket Comment: Ashes misery demands shake-up

 
Andy Lloyd
Flower and Cook deserve to stay, but their unconditional support is strange

ENGLAND’S current coach and captain have just overseen the most disastrous tour for many a year, so I find it very strange that David Collier has thrown his resounding support behind Andy Flower and Alastair Cook.

Following the 5-0 Ashes whitewash, everyone is questioning just how an England team that arrived Down Under as favourites ended up being humiliated. If the summer series’ against Sri Lanka and India don’t go as hoped, the knives really will be out.

What England and Wales Cricket Board chief Collier should have said is that they were not going to be panicked into a decision, but needed to take stock and come up with solutions to this undeniable mess.

UNDER THREAT
That’s not to say I think Flower and Cook should be axed.

This has been a very severe setback for the coach, but up to this series he had done a fantastic job. I believe all coaches have a certain lifespan with a group of players and that Flower is reaching the end of his. But if the group itself is to be overhauled – and it surely is – then there is a stronger argument for him to stay.

Cook’s position is perhaps even more vulnerable, simply because the captaincy could be impeding his batting. The fact is that Ben Stokes – included as an afterthought and batting in the middle order – was the only Englishman to score a century during the entire series. Cook’s displays weren’t good enough, and if he weren’t captain his place in the team itself would be under threat.

The problem is that while it’s easy to sack people when things go wrong, it’s far more difficult to find superior replacements. Look down that England team and you won’t find a more suitable captain than Cook. To a lesser extent a similar sentiment applies to Flower.

The most meaningful change will come among the players, where the departures of Jonathan Trott, Graeme Swann and decline of Matt Prior have left gaping holes. The difficulty is that there is a huge chasm between county cricket and Test level, so there are not dozens of ready-made replacements waiting to step up. There are, however, a few on the fringes who have a great opportunity.

I’m not convinced he’s a long-term option due to his batting but for now Jonny Bairstow is the best deputy for Prior and as such deserves a chance.

I don’t see Monty Panesar – 32 this year – as Swann’s successor, so England need to find another world-class spinner. I’m not sure a leg-spinner such as Scott Borthwick is the answer, even if Joe Root bowls off-spin. Tim Bresnan may be effective in English conditions but less so abroad so why not give Graham Onions another chance? I was stunned he didn’t make the Ashes squad. Stokes can be the fourth seamer.

PIETERSEN DISCARDED
For all his talent, I wouldn’t be surprised if Kevin Pietersen was discarded before the summer. If the plan is to build for the future I don’t see how he fits in. Move Ian Bell up to No3 or No4, Root to just below that and look to give Michael Carberry, Gary Ballance, Nottinghamshire’s James Taylor and the prematurely scrapped Nick Compton more chances. They have all shown promise in their few appearances.

With change in the air, this is a huge year for promising cricketers with aspirations of gatecrashing the side. Get fitter, fine-tune skills and become mentally stronger – this is the chance to break through.

Andy Lloyd is a former England Test cricketer who has also served as captain and chairman of Warwickshire.