Following the pyrrhic victory over the West Indies, England had some food for thought. Kevin Pieterson’s 90* certainly marked a much needed return to form, and the sight of Flintoff notching up a few overs with the ball tickling 90 mph will make for good viewing indeed.
And yet despite sturdy performances from the immutable Strauss Collingwood and Bell, and the odd individual heroism, England turned in a very village performance over three matches.
Some days ago I compared the Flintoff captaincy to the worst of David Gower, and I feel the comparison is fair. A very strong team are simply not winning.
England’s expectations and results seem to hinge on Flintoff and KP, and herein lies the problem. While undeniably the best players in the team, neither is the calming, guiding force needed to knit players together.
Both have unorthodox, aggresive styles which mark them as formidable opponents and born players of the game, yet neither quality can be transmitted to your teammates.
A captain has to be the brains of the side and everyone’s slightly stern older brother. Flintoff and Pieterson have classic middle child syndrome, they grab the attention, they act out. They are brilliant but you do not go to them for advice.
The captaincy is at least partly responsible for the calamitous form of Harmison. He is known to suffer from terrible homesickness and his form is always linked to how the captain helps him cope.
His arrival, in the West Indies, as a truly terrifying pace bowler was acknowledged to be a product of Vaughan’s arm round his shoulder, keeping his head in the right place on tour. Flintoff, I suspect, simply does not know what to do other than buy him a pint.
The Test side is built around players like Strauss, Collingwood, Cook and Bell (they who used to be Vaughan, Trescothic, Butcher and Thorpe); patient, dogged, reliable, unflappable. They are the very heavy, very nasty spear of which Flintoff and KP are the biting tip.
Only when both teams, Test and one day, are lead by a steady hand do England thrive. For all the talk about England being appalling at one day cricket, Vaughan managed to beat Australia at it twice a year ago.
Our summer test success against Pakistan saw a 2-2 fightback in the write-off one day series. Ironically coinciding with the settled captaincy of Andrew Strauss. The captaincy doesn’t just make a difference, it makes all the difference.