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Flower and Strauss cooking up an Ashes victory waltz

Trevor Chesterfield

Updated: December 8, 2010, 10:15 PM IST
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This is not one of those "where were you" questions. It is a matter of placing a face next to a name and asking what did happen to Peter Moores? Remember him? The England coach with captains Michael Vaughan and Kevin Pietersen?

It is hard to imagine, though, how out if the depths of that failed 2008/09 tour of India before and the aftermath of the shocking events of the Mumbai attack that England would eventually emerge a far stronger side. They won the Ashes last year and now have a decisive 1-0 advantage in the 2010/11 series for the Urn.

Such are the twists of fate and how it was a South African-born rebel set in motion the events that laid the foundation stone for possibly a rare Down Under success this time around. It was Pietersen, then England captain who kicked the ECB in the shins with a serious wake up call.

The world was laughing. Moores a member of the establishment has replaced Duncan Fletcher who quit in disgust over the way England played during Andrew "Freddie" Flintoff`s leadership tenure. Losing the Ashes in a 5-0 hiding followed by a disastrous World Cup in the Caribbean.

Now friends in Oz and a former colleague in Adelaide, write of the shock and bewilderment on the home front. For some it is the panic mechanic mode, without thinking of the longer term consequences. Bizarre headlines of "Recall Warnie" and "Time to SOS for Roy" along with suggestions that the lantern jawed Glenn McGrath needs to get back into shape, forget his new wife and answer the call of the country.

Three years ago, it was all so different. A year before the India tour and defeats on the subcontinent, under Moores England toured Sri Lanka with a touch of humour about day four of that Test. Moores sat facing a curious media. He looked tired with a touch of sunburn, a two-day stubble; and almost blank watery eyes didn't help his appearance either: giving the impression he had been on almighty binge. The song "A room with no cheer" seemed more apt to the mood than that old Australian favourite "A pub with no beer".

That song by the way is an Aussie specialty circa early 1960s, sung by a certain David Kirkpatrick, better known to us Down Under types as Slim Dusty. The ode starts . . . "It's lonesome away from your kindred and all..."

Moores on day four of the first Test in Kandy against Sri Lanka was seriously looking like someone on Police Files "Most Wanted List" as England were facing a possible defeat. They were one for nine (or nine for one) after relinquishing a 93 runs first innings lead to a rampant Sanath Jayasuriya - scoring 78 off 103 balls in what had been in final Test innings.

Jayasuriya, aka the Matara Mauler batted with typical flair and in spectacular fashion. It was all whack, wallop and woe with Kumar Sangakkara adding his silky skills to boost the total.

As he faced the media, there was the impression Moores didn't quite know whether to smile or slink into a corner and cry. His bowlers had become spendthrifts and England had their backs to the wall. He also came across as a cold individual. He mumbled his lines when asked a couple of questions, all of which were trying to explain what had gone wrong.

It was about this point that someone - from memory it may have been the burly former England fast bowler, Angus Fraser, or Mike Selvey - who suggested that the right words Moores was looking for were "Has anyone seen the Tooth Fairy". This was after someone asked if England still had a chance to win the game. After all squandering a 93-run first innings lead was enough to turn anyone to a drink a couple of stiff ones. They went on to lose heavily and with the Colombo and Galle Tests affected by the weather, Sri Lanka won the series.

Recalling history though is one thing, looking at the sun at Adelaide in the second Ashes Test a Pietersen scored that double century does create a certain envy by Moores and his Barmy Army fans, although many didn`t think too much of him. Waiting in the shadows and minding his own business was Andy Flower. Pietersen knew that if England hoped to win, and do it in style, they needed a former international player who thumbed his nose at a tyrant such as Robert Mugabe.

Australia are used to being No1; they won`t settle for anything else. Since winning The Ashes back last year under Andrew Strauss and a sound management team, England have struggled to achieve even a ranking that places them ahead in the Test pecking order.

Under Flower, they have become a side imbued with confidence and self-belief and the talent to match. There is no wish for the "Tooth Fairy" to appear to save the day. Strauss has been the calming influence and Pietersen the guiding light as it were and from the shadows of a year where he was looking anything but a match-winner, Alistair Cook with 450 runs and more to come.

Cook has already surpassed the great Walter Hammond who had scored close to 400 in the first couple of games in The Ashes in 1928/29, and can now, if this form continues, aim to reach for 700 in an Ashes Test series Down Under.

Australia's bowling so far this series has looked tired, woebegone and lost, like Sarah Palin's inability to shoot straight when hunting Caribou. They are unable to present an effective argument against England`s batting and it shows.

It is payback time in a big way. Since being bowled out for 260 in their first innings at The Gabba, in Brisbane, England have in two innings scored 1137 runs for the loss of six wickets. Untold batting riches have been unfurled.

Yet Strauss is right to say that one Test win is nothing. It is the series that counts. He will be aiming to be the first captain in more than 30 years to lead consecutive Ashes winning sides. Mike Brearley was the last (1977 and 1978/79).

While James Anderson heads for home on paternity leave and Stuart Broad is out of the tour, England are confident before heading for the WACA for the third Test.

England began preparing for this tour a year ago in South Africa. Flower, sitting with his ubiquitous chart and not peering at a laptop screen as is the current trend, worked out the formulas and as he has admitted, South Africa are tough to beat at home. (India might remember this).

Under Flower they won back the Ashes and have won a major trophy, the ICC World T20 this year in the Caribbean. Now they aim to do what hasn't been done since 1986/87 when Mike Gatting led the side.

Asking around during the waterlogged Test series in Sri Lanka there was a view that England could surprise and win the World Cup next year. That will be one in the eye for soccer with all their mouthy pretentiousness. As for coaches, well, it might be asked - Peter Who?

First Published: December 8, 2010, 10:15 PM IST

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