Not since the days of 2005 when Australia came to town has a visiting team been greeted by such a heightened sense of expectation and excitement since the arrival of this India team. While talk of this series defining who quite rules the cricketing landscape is perhaps justified (though South Africa may have something to say about that), it is the personnel clashes on both sides which make this clash such an appealing one.
The contests simply jump off the pages. The captains-conservative Strauss vs aggressive Dhoni, the flashing blade of Sehwag vs the efficient, less effervescent Cook, Swann vs Harbhajan, Tendulkar vs Pietersen and Anderson against Zaheer are just some of the clashes that run throughout both sides from 1 to 11. Yet the deciding clash of the summer could well be the one taking place off the field, that of Andy Flower against his predecessor Duncan Fletcher.
Comparisons between the two are obvious, both are Zimbabwean, both excelled as players (Flower more so), both are serious-minded, organised individuals who combine the technobabble of a business management mastermind with the cricketing nous of someone who has spent years learning and absorbing every nugget of information about their sport. If they are both seldom heard in public (not a bad thing in a coach), then when they do speak they mostly speak with great clarity and perception which provide a welcome contrast to the tired soundbites of most modern coaches. Not to mention both inspire great loyalty from their players, perhaps a key quality in any coach, as England players to this day count Fletcher as a friend as well as a mentor while also displaying a similar sense of respect for Flower.
Yet in some ways the comparisons can perhaps be overegged, for though they share much in common, the differences in styles remains marked. Fletcher for one in his time as England coach was against County Cricket and its demands on his players whereas Flower has positively embraced it as a means of developing players. Gone too is the protective bubble which surrounded England players under Fletcher protecting them from criticisms and potential damaging outside influences, instead replaced by a more open-minded, embracing and positive outlook from Flower who urges them to take criticism head on, take responsibility and approach every challenge as an experience to be enjoyed.
Meanwhile Fletcher’s technical analysis is perhaps more incisive and doubtless he will be aware of the varying weaknesses which exist in this England side which could give him an edge. Whereas by comparison the structure and organisation which Flower has built up in his three years as England coach provide them with a strong framework which has yet to fall down despite numerous challenges across the world. Though for that he must surely thank Fletcher who during his time as England coach putting the starting blocks in place.
They are two of cricket’s finest coaches, two men whose strengths far outweigh their weaknesses, and who share much in common but also whose differences mark them out as very much their own men. For all the qualities on show from both the English and Indian teams this summer, it could be the qualities of two Zimbabweans which could hold the key.