Joe Root call shows England have learned from Australia and India

One of sport’s great modern perfectionists, Roy Keane, summed up one of the key parts of his approach to footballing success, when he said: “Fail to prepare, prepare to fail.”

Keane should know a thing or two about sporting success, and also the importance of making big decisions at the right time to benefit the continuation of success. He worked for Sir Alex Ferguson for over a decade, a man who has built three great teams at Manchester United, and who knew when to cut his losses and make the key calls, which once included getting rid of Keane himself when the time was right.

Preparation is a key part of Andy Flower’s philosophy, he ensures his team play as many warm up games per series than Sri Lanka play Tests annually. He also likes his side to be well drilled, organised, and meticulously prepared for whatever awaits them on the field. No doubt he’d fully endorse Keane’s philosophy, as it was the things which England failed to prepare for – a captain’s form failing, your star man texting the opposition and spinners, damn mystery spinners – that have derailed his team.

What he would also recognise is that two of his side’s biggest wins to date, in Australia in 2010 and now in India, came against side’s who ignored Keane’s mantra and found themselves caught in transition and unprepared to cope with what awaited them.

Australia in 2010 were a shadow of the team which had previously crushed English spirits at will. A group of ageing players such as Ricky Ponting and Mike Hussey were required to keep a group of young, inexperienced players and others who were plainly erratic or incapable together in the face of a well drilled unit executing their skills expertly. The sight of Australia throwing in Michael Beer, Usman Khawaja and Xavier Doherty was a joyous one for an Englishman but painful for an Australian. Whereas once Australia prepared a young prospect for Test cricket with baby steps, such was the mismanagement of the departure of their great players one-by-one that they were forced by necessity to push inexperienced players too-far, too-fast. It was a shock they even won a match.

Now India in 2012 have fallen into the same trap. India are a team who have fallen on hard times from their peak of 2010 when they topped the world rankings. Their team are aging, their side disillusioned and their best players are past their peak. The sight of Virender Sehwag, Sachin Tendulkar and Zaheer Khan being wheeled out in a hope they could reignite their dying light was at the same time, both painful and awkward. Their futures are the elephant in India’s room.

The transition has again, scarcely been managed. India have two gaps in their middle order following the departures of Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman, taken by Pujara and Kohli – both of whom who were among the more successful batsmen in this series. But beyond those two, the replacements for Sachin Tendulkar and Virender Sehwag will lack experience of Test cricket, while the replacement for Zaheer Khan is still waiting to be found and the mid-series selection of Harbhajan Singh was hardly a ringing endorsement for the young spinners coming through, though if that group is headed by Ravinder Jadeja it’s hardly surprising.

If England’s two successes tell Flower anything beyond the strength of his own team, it’s also that if he wants to ensure their continuing success, then they must manage these scenarios better than those two countries.

This is a lesson which seems to resonate with him. While England’s success under Flower has been built on a cycle of players capable of adapting well to most conditions, he will be well aware that cycles will eventually end, and while the generation of Pietersen, Cook, Trott, Bell, Anderson and Swann are currently in the middle of a cycle of success which has carried them to the top of the world. But in time, and perhaps not too distant a time, this cycle will end and replacements will be needed. Hence why it was noticeable that Flower took time out in a post-series interview to praise the work of the English academy in preparing young players to be ready for international cricket. He also ought to praise the work of his predecessor, Peter Moores, who was integral in setting up the academy, because the work he has put in is reaping rewards.

English cricket has seldom produced as many multi-talented young players, but Flower has shown a keenness to expose them to international cricket which will ultimately be to England’s benefit. Joe Root’s successful debut at number six is the latest in a line of young English batsmen to be exposed to Test cricket. Jonny Bairstow and James Taylor have also performed noticeably well in difficult circumstances in Test cricket – which should boost their development further and prepare them when they permanently need to make the step up. Developing these players, and even younger, yet equally promising, players like Shiv Thakor, Daniel Bell-Drummond and Sam Billings will be high on the agenda for the next two years.

Furthermore the oft-stated intention of Flower to build a pace bowling squad which should enable England to rotate, will be used to prepare the next generation. The likes of Chris Woakes, Stuart Meaker and James Harris have all been integrated tightly with the squad and drip-fed international cricket, and all ought to be considered for the New Zealand tour. While the spin bowling cupboard is slightly barer, Flower has already exposed Scott Borthwick and Danny Briggs to international cricket and Simon Kerrigan has been part of the Performance Programme for the past two winters.

While these may seem like small steps right now, they are all intrinsic parts of Flower’s long-term plan for England, and his plan to expose as many of these younger players to international cricket as early as possible to aid their development. If England’s recent successes have taught him anything, preparing for the future is as important as preparing for the present, as both Australia and India can testify as they underwent their own, tricky, transition.

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Duncan Fletcher v Andy Flower: The clash of the summer

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.

England: And then there were three

As the old saying goes: “Three’s a crowd” so as England wake up to a new era containing not two but three captain’s it is certainly a momentuous occasion, indeed an unprecedented one in the history of English cricket.

Split captaincy has always been an uncomfortable notion for some captain’s to take, Nasser Hussain for one was set against it when Michael Vaughan took over, and it was little surprise when Vaughan succeeded Hussain as Test captain just a year after as Hussain felt the winds of change were blowing against him.

Of course the danger now is that Strauss may find himself threatened on not one front but two by this new development, if both Cook and Broad were to thrive and Strauss was to falter as Test captain.

Yet Strauss’ argument that dropping the ODI captaincy would help prolong his Test career made sense as did his argument that the World Cup is the natural end of the cycle for an ODI skipper-Ricky Ponting, Graeme Smith and Kumar Sangakkarra have all also moved on.

His record as Test captain is superb, and with victories at home and away in Australia, a draw in South Africa and an exemplary home record in Test matches it is worth sacrificing one role to help prolong arguably his most important one.

The decision to promote Stuart Broad is the most eye-catching, especially as Paul Collingwood’s record as T20 captain-a World Record run of victories and status as World Champions speak volumes. Yet Collingwood’s form with the bat has declined sharply and though he offered plenty in his bowling and fielding his faltering form became too hard to ignore.

Though Broad may a surprising choice, looking at the field of potential candidates it is perhaps understandable. Not withstanding Kevin Pietersen on the basis of past transgressions and Eoin Morgan for fear of overburdening a key cog in England’s middle order, Broad was the only one left. Furthermore he is likely to best represent the next generation of England T20 internationals such as Kieswetter, Stokes and Buttler-young, feisty and potentially explosive.

Perhaps the most controversial one is Alistair Cook as ODI skipper which was always likely to further cement Cook’s position as Strauss’ long term successor.

Many have debated the merits of Cook’s as an ODI batsmen (an average of 33 and a strike rate of 71 so far) and though his captaincy experience in Bangladesh was promising, he still lacks experience for a job which is likely to involve captaining an involving unit. Certainly Ian Bell who has experience in County cricket and a game well-suited to a place in England’s middle order, has a right to feel a touch aggrieved.

Yet the onus is on Cook to prove, like Strauss did before him, that he can push the boundaries of his game and, for want of a phrase, push the boundaries more. Cook’s success in Test cricket is built on patience and judicious selection outside off-stump and an ability to punish anything short or pushed onto his legs.

Improvements will have to be made but Cook will no doubt be aware of that, as will Flower and batting coach Graham Gooch. But if he wants a role model to base such improvements on then he could ask the very man he has replaced as ODI captain.

These are big calls from Andy Flower, three choices, three captains and three very different style of leaders whom he must deal with. Only time will tell if all three choices turn out to be the right ones.

Sensible cricket is at the heart of both Somerset and England’s recipes for success

Two games in 24 hours witnessed two thoroughly proficient performances of limited overs cricket as first England beat Pakistan and then Somerset defeated Essex in their Pro40 Semi-Final to set up a final against Warwickshire at Lords.

Both teams are enjoying a prolific time within limited overs cricket, England fresh from being crowned T20 World Champions have emerged victorious in series over Bangladesh and Australia, while Somerset reached the Twenty20 Finals Day only to be pipped by Hampshire and are now in the Pro40 final-not to mention being genuine contenders for the County Championship.

On paper there are plenty of similarities between the two teams, both are incredibly fit, well organised and drilled. Both are well led both in terms of captaincy and with the bat, England by Andrew Strauss, Somerset by Marcus Trescothick.

Both also contain versatile bowling attacks, with real quality spinners in Graham Swann and Murali Kartik, and explosive young talent in Eoin Morgan and Steven Davies, and for Somerset Jos Buttler and England’s very own Craig Kieswetter.

Yet the key for both teams, beyond the sheer depth of talent at their disposal, is that both harness it in the right way-using their talent to full, something which both team’s could have been accused of not doing in the past.

The buzz word around each team has been sensible cricket, not so much approaching matters in a cavalier matter but approaching it with a methodical, calculated approach while also performing their key skills under pressure.

Take England, who have yet to concede more than 150 runs in a T20 innings in almost 2 years, and Somerset, who lost only two of their 16 T20 matches and just two of their 11 Pro40 games. These are not statistics achieved through chance, but through rigorous effort and a methodical, common sense approach.

Certainly, the improvements in both lie in the powerful management both on, and off the field-both by their coaches Andy Flower and Andy Hurry, and on the field with Strauss and Trescothick.

The coaches are particularly key, Flower built on the base which was constructed by the well-meaning, but under-respected Peter Moores, who laid the foundations for this success. So too, as Hurry and Trescothick built on the base constructed by Justin Langer during his time as captain.

Langer, a keen workaholic whose career outlasted many more talented batsmen as a result, helped introduce the kind of work ethic and fitness work which were unpopular among certain maverick players like Ian Blackwell, but which has proved beneficial to the likes of James Hildreth and Peter Trego who are thriving, as are the team.

It is about managing resources, covering every base, rigorously planning ahead, and ensuring that skills are performed under even the most pressured of environments. These may sound purely like plain common sense, but that is the very notion which is at the heart of their success. Sensible cricket, which as both England and Somerset are proving, is also successful cricket.