Flower faces tough choices to revive England

By Ian Ransom

MELBOURNE (Reuters) - England's calamitous Ashes loss with two tests to spare has sparked the usual calls for heads to roll in all departments, but it remains to be seen whether coach Andy Flower will man the guillotine or put his own neck on the chopping block.

The architect of England's rise to the pinnacle of test cricket, however brief the reign, Flower is contracted till the end of the five-test series Down Under, but has given no indication as to whether he intends to stay on.

"We have two tests and I am hungry to do well in those games," the 45-year-old former Zimbabwe captain told the BBC after his side lost the third test and the series in Perth on Tuesday.

"That is as far as I am looking at the moment."

Flower has ruled England with what has been described as an iron fist, with meticulous planning and attention to detail, a trait that caused some mirth Down Under when excerpts from an 82-page dossier of England's dietary requirements on tour were published in Australian media last month.

Whether Flower has the stomach to sign another contract is likely to be settled by how the team responds to their lowest ebb since being whitewashed 5-0 in the 2006-07 series.

Flower may not feel all that committed if the team crashes to further losses in the fourth test in Melbourne and the fifth and final match in Sydney.

Equivocating over his future is unlikely to win him too many friends in England, where former players and pundits see a need for emergency surgery to save the patient before the next Ashes in 2015.

"Does Andy Flower see the problems in his England side and have the balls to make big changes? Or will he want out?" Geoff Boycott fumed in Britain's Daily Mail.

"Remember he has given up the running of the 50-over and Twenty20 sides to have more time off.

"If you are going to build another team to challenge the world it requires mental strength and strong desire from the coach."

With a number of other hard choices to make ahead of the Boxing Day test in Melbourne, Flower may, understandably, be reluctant to ponder his future.

He was not shirking his responsibility for England's stunning fall from grace in Australia, however, where they have been outplayed in every facet of the game.

"Absolutely it's my responsibility so I'm quite comfortable taking that on," Flower said in Perth.

"I think without a doubt I have to look at how we prepared and the decisions we made, and certainly that I've made."

BLOOD YOUNGSTERS

Critics have seized on the series loss as evidence of a team in terminal decline, and say the time is ripe to blood new players.

That England's best performers Down Under were those who have not spent years in Flower's boot camps may be revealing.

Joe Root handled his promotion to number three in Jonathan Trott's absence with aplomb in Adelaide, while opener Michael Carberry has shown he has the patience and technique to hold down an opening spot with captain Alastair Cook.

Trott's exit also opened the door for all-rounder Ben Stokes, who put a difficult debut in Adelaide behind him to score the tourists' first century of the tour in Perth on a wicket that appeared to have been struck by an earthquake.

It has been England's old stagers dragging the chain, with Cook and vice captain Matt Prior prominent among them.

Prior's dismal wicketkeeping in Perth, where he missed two stumping opportunities and failed to move for a catch that was clearly his, smacked of a man utterly bereft of confidence.

Flower suggested he could hardly do worse than to let Prior rest in Melbourne and give Jonny Bairstow a chance.

"It's a possibility, of course," he said.

"Matt Prior has been an outstanding cricketer for England during a second phase of his English career.

"But like all those positions we have to review them."

Flower's main concern lies in his bowling stocks, however, where his front-line troops James Anderson and Graeme Swann have not only been down on form, but had their noses rubbed in the dirt by a resurgent Australian batting order.

Throwing the ball to Steven Finn or the uncapped Boyd Rankin at Melbourne might be preferable to recalling Chris Tremlett, whose lack of pace was exposed in Brisbane.

It might also backfire spectacularly in the face of a fired-up Australian attack desperate to inflict deep psychological harm on the next generation of English cricketers.

"I just hope that some of the England guys with all those caps to their name and those fine records are not starting to think about life beyond cricket," former England captain Nasser Hussain wrote in the Daily Mail.

"The last thing England need is to lose this series 5-0, because then the mental scarring starts to afflict them when it's been afflicting Australia for the previous three series."

(Editing by Amlan Chakraborty/Peter Rutherford)

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