Book Review: How Fletcher and Flower Transformed English Cricket
The Plan, Steve James’ analysis of how Duncan Fletcher and Andy Flower made England the No. 1 ranked test team in world cricket, is by a quirk of fate and a clash of egos actually much more than that.
Unusually for what is essentially a look back at the recent history of the England cricket team, it has been made more relevant than ever by recent events. The fallout of Kevin Pietersen’s texts to the South Africa team, subsequent expulsion from the England set-up and predictable yet agonisingly slow return is obviously outside the time frame of James’ work, but the insight contained herein goes a long way towards explaining just why the rumpus was such a big deal.
Flower’s insistence on the team ethic – on everyone, from players to coaches to support staff to administrators, pulling in the same direction – is explained in great depth by James, a long-time friend of Flower from their days playing together in Zimbabwe. Anyone wanting to know exactly why the row between the team and Pietersen turned so bitter could do worse than leaf through The Plan. It’s the kind of insight that alters opinions.
It’s also typical of the depth of analysis of the book. James, a former batsman for Glamorgan and England, and now a journalist with the Sunday Telegraph is well-placed to provide what should be the defining work on England’s ascent from international laughing stock to highest-rated team in the test area.
Not only has he been close to Flower for decades, but he played under Fletcher at Glamorgan, immediately before Fletcher ascended to the England job. He later worked with Fletcher on two books, an Ashes diary and Fletcher’s autobiography.
The personal anecdotes the author is then able to offer about each protagonist are part of what helps raise the book above more standard fare. James clearly knows each man well and can give a broad overview of their respective careers – always remembering to place each tale in the context of a point about the England team. The book doesn’t wander, and in a tome that covers more than a decade, that’s some achievement.
There is the occasional diversion into a wider cricketing issue or background information on something else happening in the game at that point in time, but these are by and large necessary and help give a well-rounded picture of what Fletcher and Flower were dealing with.
James also avoids getting too close to either man in the book. For a writer dissecting the recent careers of two people he so obviously admires personally and professionally, James is never sycophantic, and nor is he worried about upsetting other big names in either the sport or the journalistic side covering the sport. Balance is the key, as no scores are settled but criticism is levelled where it’s deserved, and neither Fletcher nor Flower escape scot free.
I came to The Plan as more of a casual cricket fan, rarely attending games in person but regularly watching on TV. With James having spent much of his adult life bathed in the finer points of fielding positions and so on it would have been easy for the author to overload the reader on such largely unnecessary detail.
Instead, the result is a book that offers masses of detail but only the points salient to the story being told. And it is some story, given expert treatment by James and matching the excellence of the team and the coaches it shadows.
The Plan: How Fletcher and Flower Transformed English Cricket, is available to deliver from Amazon, and is also available on Kindle.