Andy Flower is reflecting on how one of the greatest of all England teams fell apart spectacularly, amid bitterness and acrimony after scaling the heights like very few others.
‘It’s important to remember the good times, but undoubtedly our achievements were diminished by the way it all ended,’ says the most successful coach in England cricket history.
‘I regret that it negatively affected key people’s lives,’ says Flower. ‘People I respect. Kevin Pietersen himself, Alastair Cook, Paul Downton and myself all had pretty hard times in the early part of 2014. I hope that this film will be part of the healing process.’
Andy Flower coached England between 2009 and 2014, winning three Ashes series
‘This film’ is The Edge, a beautifully crafted account of the way England rose from the fall-out from the first Kevin Pietersen affair and climbed to the top of the world before crashing down in the flames of the second big KP controversy.
Central to it is Flower, who took over as coach from his friend Peter Moores at the start of 2009 and joined with Andrew Strauss to construct a team that went from bottom to No 1 in the world Test rankings.
The Edge celebrates that team, but it is far from a straightforward chronicle of the achievements that brought them three Ashes successes under Flower, including the fabled triumph in Australia in 2010-11 with Strauss and a World Twenty20 title in Barbados.
This is as much a look at the huge demands placed on sportspeople and the human sacrifices they must make to reach and stay at the top of their profession.
Crucially, it focuses on the mental health issues that can be the very real consequences of success, movingly highlighting the problems faced by Jonathan Trott in particular.
Flower with Andrew Strauss (left) after winning the Ashes series in Australia in 2011
‘I’m incredibly proud of what we achieved as a group over those five years,’ Flower tells Sportsmail now. ‘I was very lucky to have Strauss as captain for a lot of that time, but I worked with a lot of other good captains, staff and players.
‘We started off at a low base, when Peter lost his job as coach and KP lost the captaincy. That was a tough time. But it was also a good one to come in and start afresh, even though there was still baggage in the dressing room. And being bowled out for 51 in Jamaica acted as a catalyst because it allowed us to draw a line under the past and say “Right, things are not all well in the camp. What are we going to do about it?”
‘I watched the film with my two youngest children, aged 16 and 18, and they’re not really into sport. They were very sceptical after the first five minutes but by the end they had really enjoyed the story, the touches of humour and the personal struggles it highlighted.
‘I think that’s how I saw the film, too. It obviously evoked strong memories and emotions for me. It certainly brought a tear to my eye.’
The sporting tragedy of the team of Strauss, Pietersen, Matt Prior, Graeme Swann, Jonathan Trott et al is that they are remembered more now for the way, as Flower says, their achievements were diminished by the 5-0 Ashes defeat in 2013-14 that led to the coach’s resignation and the exiling of Pietersen.
The England team spray champagne as they celebrate winning the Ashes at the Oval in 2013
Flower is now Lions coach, guiding England’s next generation. He is candid about the controversy that engulfed him at the end of his time in charge.
‘Of course I regret the way it ended,’ says Flower. ‘Nobody is perfect and I am certainly no different. I made mistakes. I’m not sure how clearly I saw things after the fatigue of back-to-back Ashes series. Therefore my influence was not as healthy as it should have been. The entire situation should have been handled better and I accept responsibility for my part in it.
‘But time can heal. I’ve had certain things happen in my working and personal lives that feel devastating and thankfully, over time, pain does dissipate. This film may help on the cricketing front.’
Flower praises the film’s director, Barney Douglas, who had dressing room access at the time as the ECB’s digital editor. ‘Barney Douglas tells a good story and he tells it in as positive and humane a way as possible. He became friends with a number of the players and staff and has an insight into the group and an empathy with the situation that most don’t.’
The bulk of the controversy, of course, involved Pietersen and his strained relationship with team-mates like Cook, Prior, Swann and Stuart Broad. And, most pertinent of all, his relationship with the coach, Flower, who he attacks scathingly in his book.
Pietersen is expected to continue his criticism in a forthcoming documentary on his career on Sky.
Flower and his coaching staff look dejected following their 5-0 series defeat in Australia
Strauss, the subject of the texts sent by Pietersen to South African opponents that led to him being suspended in 2012, said last week he planned a round of golf with his predecessor as captain to try to patch things up. Now Flower is equally magnanimous.
‘The fall-out from the end of that era, principally around Kevin and his book, was tough for the people involved but I wish him all the best. I hope Kevin and his family are happy and his future career is successful. I hope he has moved on from the hurt of that time.
‘I have always been very open to shaking hands with Kevin and having a drink with him. It is Kevin’s choice whether he wants to move in the same way. I’d love the whole of our squad to get together again. Life is too precious and short to carry bitterness around. I feel very fondly towards all of the people I interacted with during that time.’
Flower’s words are at odds with his reputation as a disciplinarian and hard taskmaster. In The Edge, several players talk of their trepidation when Flower’s name flashed up on their phones. And Steven Finn says, ‘When Andy looks into your eyes he looks into your soul.’
Flower winces at the portrayal.
‘When I heard reflections I giggled a bit but it’s quite obviously not the effect I want to have on people,’ he says. ‘A leader does have to draw a line or hold a certain respect from the people around them, but I didn’t want that respect to morph into fear.
The bulk of the controversy involved Kevin Pietersen and his relationship with team-mates
‘That bunch of cricketers are really great young men and we shared some amazing experiences together. Some tough, yes, but we had a lot of fun and professional and personal satisfaction, too.’
So is he misunderstood? ‘Possibly,’ says Flower. ‘That may be the case, certainly public image-wise. But in high-profile positions you’ve got to take the rough with the smooth.
‘There are elements of truth to the portrayal of us being super- disciplined and well drilled. But regimented and stats driven, that would be inaccurate, in my opinion.
‘I wanted the players to revel in how lucky they were to be travelling the world, sharing experiences with their mates, playing against the best in the world, pushing their boundaries and testing their capabilities and really enjoy doing that.’
Flower thoroughly enjoyed how the new England won the World Cup. ‘It was an astounding day. We as a Lions group were lucky enough to watch the climax of it in the dressing room at Canterbury, sharing a drink and shouting, screaming and wincing like normal England cricket fans.
‘I think this will be the catalyst for an increased drive of energy into the game. I can’t see how it could not be. It was such a showpiece for the game worldwide, but especially in England. Sky were not just incredibly generous in sharing it with free-to-air television but showed great foresight and wisdom. They have been outstanding partners for English cricket.
England Lions coach Flower looks on prior to their match against Australia A last week
‘And it was lovely seeing the coaching and science and medicine staff sharing in the revelry at Lord’s. Trevor Bayliss particularly, but his staff, too, have done an amazing job with the team.’
Flower’s legacy, as much as anything, is England’s dominance in home Ashes series and next week they will begin their attempt to try to retain the urn having not lost on home soil since 2001. ‘I can certainly see England winning again but it’s going to be a fascinating battle between two excellent bowling attacks,’ says Flower.
‘Australia have a couple of outstanding batsmen but it’s the bowling that really stands out for me. Mitchell Starc is a match- winner. Then Josh Hazlewood, James Pattinson, Pat Cummins and Nathan Lyon are all excellent operators. When the ball is slightly dominant it can make for fascinating cricket.
‘It will also be fascinating to watch Jason Roy, if selected, at the top of the order. If he can show the same sort of poise in defence and combine that with the timing and power that he showed in the semi-final at Edgbaston then it will be fantastic cricket to watch.’
Flower feels the good times will keep on coming. ‘There’s tons of talent coming through because we’re so well-resourced in this country.
‘We’re in a really good position and we should be getting outstanding results. Not all the time because that’s not how the world works, but we should always be up there in the top three. I see abundant talent in this Lions squad.’
Flower suggests he might not be in charge of the Lions for too much longer.
‘I’m at a little bit of a crossroads wondering which way my working life should go,’ he reveals. ‘I need to pay a little more attention to that decision.
‘I’m 51 and I’m not entirely sure what direction my life’s going to go in the next couple of years. We shall see.’
This hugely significant figure in English cricket has not always had the credit he deserves in those years since England’s world fell apart. But The Edge has a happy ending and that’s how Flower’s England should be remembered now.
The Edge is out now in cinemas and is available on DVD and digital download
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