The two Ashes series are deservedly the marquee competitions in cricket this year. Pakistan’s tour of South Africa and Australia’s tour of India offer compelling subplots and the expected eventual retirement of a certain #4 batsman may end up being what the year is remembered for. With all of these events in the pipeline, the ODI series that starts Friday between India and England is destined to be discarded into a nondescript chapter in the history books right between successive India vs. Sri Lanka chapters. But the series does offer one unique angle that makes it interesting to follow.
English cricket will trot out its grand new experiment with Ashley Giles taking over the reins as the head coach and lead man for the ODI series. Test match head honcho Andy Flower will use the time to rest up and relax with his family before receiving the coaching baton in time for a test tour of New Zealand. While the two formats have existed for four decades, this is the first time a nation has gone ahead with the two coach, coaches for courses approach. All of the reports from India carry tons of optimism with the protagonists singing kumbaya and preaching unity. Ashley Giles and Andy Flower are supposed to be in this altogether and are working on this without ego or selfishness. I don’t expect anything different during the honeymoon phase of this grand new experiment but here below are my thoughts on possible ways this could turn out.
Scenario 1:England retain the Ashes thru 2014: The English Cricket Board (ECB) has clearly prioritized test match cricket over limited overs cricket. This dual coach approach ensures that the coach who has led them to so much test match success (Andy Flower) is rested and refreshed through the year. An Andy Flower who is happy with his work-life balance is an Andy Flower who will coach England to the best of his ability. If England retain the Ashes thru 2014 and identify a core for their 2015 World Cup squad, mission accomplished! If Ashley Giles ends up being a successful coach as England win ODIs under his stewardship that is a clear bonus. Retaining the Ashes while finding some sort of ODI core is the ECB’s wet dream. This here is the best case scenario and one that ensures the dual coach strategy will become the blueprint of most test nations post 2015.
scenario 2: Australia win an Ashes series: Australia winning one of the Ashes series in the next 12 months ensures England’s test goals have taken a hit. This will lead to a lot of second guessing on whether or not intangible factors like team camaraderie, morale and roster understanding were compromised by the two coach model. Selectors and media do not flinch from identifying causes and correlations where none exist. A reduced level of success especially in the home Ashes could cause a lot of second guessing. Imagine if an Ashley Giles coached side won the ODI series in India and the Champions’ trophy while Andy Flower watched Michael Clarke hoist the Ashes at the Oval? Will there really be cool heads then that parse thru the real reasons why the test side lost? All of the rest and work-life balance may still end up making Andy a dull boy.
Scenario 3: Australia win both the Ashes series: This here becomes the ultimate nightmare and is likely to put the 2-coach approach into deep slumber. In this case it doesn’t even matter how the ODI team does because the primary goal will have not been achieved. A myriad of reasons may explain the discrepancy in test performance but I wouldn’t be surprised to read pieces that contain phrases like ‘lost the dressing room’ or ‘Double trouble’. England will have to do an honest post-mortem if this were to transpire. Hard to see how Flower survives this in spite of current assurances that he will be the coach for the next 2+ years.
English cricket is trying something very unique, innovative and risky. Sometimes outcomes don’t do justice to the thought and processes behind the results. That may very well be how this approach is judged. While it is inspiring to see innovation in resource management, egoless coaches working for the betterment of English cricket and an ODI series with an actual back story, the future of the move may very well lie in the hands of Michael Clarke and James Pattinson.