Whilst contemplatively slurping my chicken soup from Pret, let me share some thoughts - slightly edited from my TMS blog post - as to what's going on with our very talented team:
I've always felt that if you want to understand an organisation, look to the head - the ethos and mood trickle down from there. So if you want to understand a classroom, look to the teacher. A monastery, look to the abbot.
If you want to understand a team, look to the coach.
I think Peter English at cricinfo made an excellent point when he said that Duncan Fletcher's mood seemed to have infected the team on the morning of the 5th day after the optimistic end of the 4th. He sat there, arms crossed, immobile - you can see that mood reflected in Ian Bell - until now a confident, intuitive batsman in this series - doubting his teammate's call for a tight single. Colly KNOWS what he's doing - from both the batting and fielding perspectives - Bell just needed to *trust* him and go. Why didn't he?
It's the retrenchment mindset - don’t lose any, rather than go out to win. So when a healthy risk is taken, Bell baulks…b/c he can’t appropriately assess the risk - ANY risk is dangerous. And that’s the atmosphere Duncan has created. Only Michael Vaughan neutralised that to a great extent. You HAVE to trust your partner and TAKE THE RISK. That's the only way a team works. This incident where one teammate didn't trust another's calculation of risk is symptomatic of what ails the team and I suspect it's very telling re: Fletcher's leadership.
Fletcher strikes me as the type of coach who is really good for one thing: building teams from nothing and instilling stability and security (e.g., central contracts)...brilliant for us in 1999. However, he doesn't seem to know what to do once he has built the team - he's like a parent with an adolescent, unable to let go and allow for growth, increased risk-taking and independence whilst granting unconditional support. He's done well by us, but he now has a bunch of talented cricketers who need to be allowed to fly, not be kept on jesses. They need someone who would have been smiling this morning and said, "Go for it, boys, you can play your game. Watch Shane on this pitch - it ain't over, but get out there, you can do this." They needed encouragement and pride in what they'd done so far...and to be told to keep taking it to the Aussies - it looks like they were just told to survive the day. And if that's your goal in a contest like this - or lack of one, really - you may as well just hand over the prize now.
The way the English team is playing, they remind me of pupils I used to teach who had over-anxious, over-controlling parents. They would freeze b/c they were afraid to fail...but the freezing guaranteed that failing is exactly what they'd do.
Thanks for everything, Duncan, but you're impeding the growth and success of this team now. We need someone who can take a group brimming with talent and turn them into a team where partners trust eachother's decisions, have faith in their ability to take the necessary risks, and never say die. And someone who will make proactive, not defensive, decisions himself - letting the team know that "I know you guys can go out and win this - and that's what we're going for - whether we win, lose or draw." That is the difference between potential and champions.
Even the Aussies agree - to quote an article in "The Australian", 02/12/06:
"Australia only became the world's champion team when Mark Taylor became captain and brought a positive attitude, sweeping aside Simpson's [ex-Australian coach] ghosts and bringing light where there was fear and darkness.
England needs an enlightened approach for the sake of Panesar and all those who follow him.
It is clearly not going to dawn as long as Fletcher continues to cling to his empire."
Darren Lehmann, come on down - a South Australian who will tell the team to be careful when it's warranted, but who will inject some positive thinking and some Aussie bolshiness and grit into this side.
Bring it on. Losing this series could be the best thing that ever happened to the England cricket team.