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The Benefits Of Positivity

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Five years ago, England were about to embark on an enthralling World Cup campaign that would see them lose by 10 wickets to eventual runners-up Sri Lanka in the quarter-finals. The England side that travelled to India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, lost to Bangladesh and Ireland but managed to beat South Africa and tie with India. They were the most exciting nation in the tournament, the only time that was said when discussing the Flower years.

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Skip forward half a decade, and England are about to start another World Cup campaign in India. Last time this happened, we were cricketing dinosaurs who just happened upon an exciting storyline. This time, England are rightly one of the few teams who could win, even in such un-natural conditions. Yes, the formats are different however nowadays our T20 and ODI sides are almost identical, and bear no resemblance to the test unit, unlike that of 5 years ago. The improvement is symbolic of our change in attitude and increase in belief.

A new lease of life is following England cricket around. Gone are the bad apples of the last regime and in are the more laid back and encouraging figures. Paul Farbrace and Trevor Bayliss have breathed life into a side left shy by Andy Flower and demoralised by Peter Moores. Maybe I’m being harsh on Moores, as you’ll see throughout this article he kick-started this, he wasn’t able to see it come to fruition but then no one else would have either.

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This is a new generation of English cricketers. A generation who have been taught to play aggressively by the way the English county system works, and encouraged to continue that on the international stage. These players started playing for England under Flower, however he didn’t know what to do with them, and the end result was a 5-0 thrashing to a much better Australian side.

At the time, I absolutely loved watching Andy Flower’s England side play. I now look back at it with something akin to disgust. It was Kevin Pietersen who started to change people’s opinions on them when he openly talked about the bullying culture, the ruling by fear of Flower and the cliques in the dressing room. At the time it was seen as self-promotion, as a man desperately trying to get back into favour with England, as he praised new captain Alastair Cook and “left the door open for a return.”

However, what’s happened since has led me to believe he wasn’t too far away from telling the truth. My opinion on his interview started changing when retired wicket keeper Craig Kieswetter talked openly to ESPN. During that, he said:

“There were jokes made in the dressing room if you had South African background. When we warmed up in training, we were split into sides: South Africans v English. There was lots of talk about it in the media and here we were making it worse. It created an unnecessary divide. A sense of them and us.”

Kieswetter went on to say he now has a love-hate relationship with representing England.

Craig Kieswetter was a classic example of how Andy Flower ruined any player with flair and aggression. If Kieswetter was just a few years younger and hadn’t suffered that horrible injury, I have no doubt that he would flourish under Bayliss.

In fact, I think the most staggering thing about this England revolution is that Bayliss and the selectors have mainly picked the same names Flower had. Or more accurately the names Flower discarded. Keeping together the test core of Cook, Bell, Broad and Anderson certainly made sense but it feels like Bayliss, and Moores before him, has had a word with all. Broad and Anderson were at the centre of Pietersen’s bullying accusations, with Cook seeming like the ideal man for an Andy Flower type regime.

All now seem to be playing cricket with a smile on their faces. Cook and Broad’s form have improved massively since Bayliss took over, Anderson seems less angry on the pitch and Bell was given a chance to impress but has now been dropped. We never thought Alastair Cook could captain an aggressive side, yet here he is. It maybe suggests that Pietersen was right all along, and Flower was holding Cook back.

Even more than that, Bayliss, but again started by Moores, has brought back players Flower discarded as too expensive, or too elegant. Ben Stokes and Steven Finn are the obvious two who jump to mind, but in reality you can throw James Taylor, Nick Compton, Jonny Bairstow, Liam Plunkett, Chris Woakes, Stephen Parry, Adil Rashid, and even Samit Patel as players dropped under Flower but returning impressively since. They didn’t fit the Flower mentality and so were dropped, despite being some of the most talented cricketers in the county system.

Strike Rate

The lower the number, the better. The clearest evidence available that Finn shouldn’t have been cast aside like he was.

In fact, the only truly new names in the England side since Flower left are Mooen, Jason Roy, James Vince, David Willey, Mark Wood, Sam Billings, Reece Topley and hopefully Mark Footitt soon. Anyone who watches any level of domestic cricket will tell you none of them are left field selections – all deserve their place. As I said, the majority of this squad were known to and used by Flower.

Flower’s constant war by attrition has now been replaced by Bayliss’ aggressive stance. While the former results in more victories, the latter is much more enjoyable. The latter also breeds less extreme emotions. Every time we lost a series under Flower there was another investigation and another cull, every time we lose now there’s a shrug of the shoulders and a “well, life goes on” attitude. Which is more conducive to positive outcomes?

Take the latest England test series as a perfect example of this. We lost 2-0 in the UAE to Pakistan, and in the past there almost certainly would have been an inquest into what went wrong. Instead, the attitude since has been one almost of victory. Before players would have walked around with their tails between their legs, whereas now they can go to South Africa and win.

Jonny Bairstow is the epitome in the difference between Flower and Bayliss. Bairstow was in and out of the side under the former, scoring well against South Africa in 2012 but struggling elsewhere. England dropped him, with Moores preferring Buttler when Prior retired. Farbrace brought Bairstow back into the side in the summer, and he is now unquestionably our number one wicket keeper in tests. It’s testament to both Bairstow’s hard work and Bayliss’ trust. Under Flower, he looked afraid to play his natural game and was making mistakes with the gloves. Now, he’s a better keeper and scoring runs his own way. It’s no coincidence that he didn’t score a century under Flower yet has under Bayliss. Flower scared players, Bayliss encourages them. Flower hindered individuals, Bayliss lets them flourish.

Bairstow

A further interesting case study would be that of South Africa, who are experiencing what we have, just a few years later. Rising to world number 1 in the rankings, they are now falling with an unsettled line-up, trying to blood too many players in at once. The similarities between the two sides are staggering, in fact the only difference would be South Africa’s lack of a quality spinner. Swann’s influence is possibly the reason England rose to the top quicker.

South Africa used had captain Graeme Smith and Hashim Amla in their top 3. Jacques Kallis came in at four, with AB de Villiers at 5. Vernon Philander, Morne Morkel and Dale Steyn formed their formidable bowling line up. These six players, with 4 still playing, will be remembered as some of the finest in South African history. Smith and Kallis are already icons; Amla, AB and Steyn will surely join them.

The similarity with England? I’ll throw at you some English names. Andrew Strauss, Alastair Cook, Jonathan Trott, Kevin Pietersen, Steven Finn, Stuart Broad, James Anderson. See the comparison? Further, do you also see the differences?

Strauss was, at most points during his career, almost as good as Smith and yet is not remembered in anywhere near the same breath. Trott didn’t have long enough on the international stage but had the potential to score the runs that Kallis managed (this is a weak comparison admittedly!). Both should have scored more, both were ruined by Flower’s intensity. Pietersen is perhaps remembered as better than he was, but even he has a case to say he should have been as good as AB is now. Was he ever as regularly destructive as AB?

England v South Africa 1

While we all agree the South Africans (with the possible exception of Cook) are better, the stats prove that Andy Flower ruined all three, and yet all three are considered icons of a golden generation. In comparison to their South African counterparts, it’s shocking how we look back at that era with any kind of warmth. South Africa have every right to enjoy that outgoing era, England don’t.

The other names mentioned, Cook, Broad, Finn, Anderson can all start repairing their reputations and setting new paths and new legacies for themselves. Anderson and Cook are already two of England’s greatest, it wouldn’t surprise me to see Finn and Broad join that. Broad is already well on his way. That’s something that Strauss, Trott and Pietersen will never get to experience.

Andy Flower’s rule of terror almost destroyed English cricket while somehow making them the best side in the world. It was an era defined by being best in the short term rather than laying platforms for the long one. Yes, this side will be more inconsistent but then, if this side gets it together, it can beat the best in any conditions.

Simply put, this side plays with a desire to win rather than with the fear of losing.

If you aren’t convinced, maybe I should return to my original point and compare the side taken to India in 2011 with the one likely to be taken this.

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Andy Flower will always use his record to defend himself, however his one-day one is particularly bad (even with the World T20 win – that was still before it all went downhill and even then it was T20 attrition) and it always felt like he didn’t care about the format. For Flower, it was all about results and less about individuals. While it’s unquestionable we did well, what’s more dubious is whether this actually helped England.

I’d argue it didn’t, and furthermore I’d say we are much better now than we ever were under Flower. Positivity breeds positivity, yet negativity is much harder to shake. Under Flower we were negative, and hence Moores, who did little wrong in his second stint, wasn’t able to shake off the vibes that led to his downfall. Bayliss and Farbrace have completely changed the whole demeanor of English cricket, making everything less important except how the individual feels in the dressing room. Losses are part and parcel in sport; Bayliss’ set-up has made that perfectly clear and acceptable, if not desirable.

England Nets Session

It’s too soon to declare Bayliss as the savior of English cricket, and eventually this experiment with positivity might fail. However, the idea will never fade and future English generations will play with the same freedom and the same ideas that this one has.

Thankfully, the war of attrition has ended. Andy Flower may have turned England into the best test side in the world, but he almost ruined any future we had as an international force. These small steps under Bayliss are beginning to right that wrong.

I’ve seen it said that the twenty first century has brought with it a golden generation of English cricketers. I agree.

It’s just not the one that played under Flower’s dictatorship.

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Author: GHardman42

Mancunian. Main passions are Sport and Mus(e)ic. Huge Everton, AM, Lancashire, JB and England fan! I play tennis like Dolgopolov (except nowhere near as good). Josh has said "You just don't know what will come next"

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