Andy Flower has warned that allowing England players to participate in the IPL can result in them missing out on “growth opportunities” in first-class cricket.
Flower, who is standing in for Andrew Strauss as England team director, accepted that those same players benefited from opportunities in other areas, but also suggested that domestic cricket must better recreate the conditions prevalent in international cricket if the England team’s results are to improve.
And Flower, who will also sit in on selection meetings and take over Strauss’ role on the domestic structure review working party, also conceded that there should be a “review” of the Lions program as, despite significant investment, they “haven’t done that well.”
During Flower’s period as England coach, there was regular tension between those players wanting to participate in the IPL – notably Kevin Pietersen – and Flower’s contention that they might compromise their Test form if they spent the early weeks of the county season playing T20 cricket in India. Under Strauss’ period in charge, the thinking has changed somewhat, with the England management both reluctant to stand in the way of the earning opportunities their players have in the IPL and respectful of the cricketing benefits of the experience.
Flower can see the debate from both sides. But while accepting the benefits of IPL experience, he also acknowledges the potential drawbacks.
“The ECB position, at the moment, is to allow some of our best players to go to the IPL,” Flower said. “And a lot of people will say things have thankfully moved on from the time I made my decisions around subjects like the IPL.
“[By playing in the IPL] They do miss out on some really excellent growth opportunities in first-class cricket for their counties. There is no doubt about that.
“But the understanding at the moment is that they are growing in other ways, playing under a lot of pressure, in front of big crowds and among some of the best players in the world at the IPL.”
Echoing concerns raised by Strauss in recent days, Flower suggested that it was important that conditions in County Championship cricket reflected those seen in the international game. At present, with a disproportionate number of fixtures in the opening and closing weeks of the season, the Championship is often played in conditions favouring nibbling medium-pacers with few opportunities for spinners and lessened need for pace.
And while Flower accepted there would be a window for The 100 in the new domestic schedule, he feels the domestic program had to improve if England were to produce players better prepared for international cricket.
“We want to, ideally, recreate international conditions in our domestic cricket,” he said. “If you have proper international conditions, there’s an imperative for fast bowling rather than the little seamers that dominate the [county] game and good quality spin bowling. You get the consequent benefit of batsmen facing that bowling.
“There is a review of the structure and that might change. That window – for T20 cricket – is five weeks from the last week of July. There’s a lot of great cricketing time either side of it. And it’s about what they play up to that last week in July. Those decisions are yet to be made.
“And, when reviewing the domestic structure, the Lions has to be very much a big part of that decision. Yes, the ECB spend a reasonable amount of money in Lions and Young Lions [Under-19] programmes. What we try to do there is provide some added value experiences that the counties can’t provide in their first-class structure. We try and put the players in alien conditions, against really good opposition most of the time and almost mirroring some long, tough overseas tours.
“But I think it would be fair to say we haven’t done that well enough because we aren’t getting those away results. We have to review how we’re doing things and be creative and curious about the way we lead those programmes. And about how we coach and how we help these guys quicker and deeper: about themselves and about the game.”
With Flower covering for Strauss, Mark Ramprakash will assume the role of England Lions coach. He will, therefore, coach the Lions side in their tri-series games against West Indies and India and their four-day match at New Road against India.
“Ramps is a really good man and a really good coach,” Flower said. “He’s also a young coach learning his trade. This is part of that growth for him. It’s a really good opportunity for him to lead a management and coaching team. He led the South side in the North-South series and did it really well. I was his assistant coach and he was outstanding. He works outstandingly well with Graham Thorpe, with whom he now shares the ECB lead batting coach role.”
While Flower made it clear he would not be calling Strauss every day – “We want to give him some space to be with his family,” he said – he did confirm the pair would consult over “substantive issues” as they arose.
In the immediate future, Flower will be coaching – “I won’t be coaching,” he says, “I’ll be getting the guys together and making sure they have a great time” – the World XI in the Hurricane Relief match at Lord’s on May 31.
“It will be a great game for a really good cause,” he said. “There are no fees for the players and the MCC have donated Lord’s. We have some exciting players – such as 17-year-old legspinner Sandeep Lamichhane – and Rashid Khan, who is one of the best limited-overs leg-spinners in the world. We have Indian and Pakistani players playing together in a World XI, which is exactly what these sorts of events are trying to achieve, and the event is going to do a lot of good for areas extensively damaged by the hurricane.
Tickets for the Hurriance Relief match – 20 for adults and 10 for children – can be purchased from the Lord’s website: https://tickets.lords.org/