Flower calls for soul searching
Andy Flower insists England must be honest with themselves if they are to work out once and for all why they keep starting Test tours so poorly.
- Related Content
Flower concedes four successive sub-200 totals at the start of away series, completed by England's 167 all out in the drawn first Test against New Zealand, is an issue they must confront.
England's Test coach acknowledges too that the process must start with him, because he will not be asking his players to do anything he is not prepared to do himself.
It required a mammoth second-innings effort - including centuries from both openers and a dour demonstration of nightwatchman Steven Finn's previously-unheralded defensive technique - to ensure a draw in Dunedin.
England can therefore still hope to win the three-match series, which continues in Wellington this week.
After their previous false starts over the past two winters, they lost the series only against Pakistan - drawing subsequently in Sri Lanka and then posting a historic victory in India before Christmas.
Flower does not accept the suggestion that England's early troubles this time at the University Oval were the result of insufficient preparation time.
"The way we started this tour, principally in that first innings, has nothing to do with people not having enough cricket," he said.
"We've had a reasonable amount of preparation time, and enough to get ready for that first Test.
"So that is not the reason why we under-performed."
He believes comparisons with England's sticky start in the desert 14 months ago are also wide of the mark, but agrees nonetheless an unwanted pattern has emerged.
"It's very different to the Pakistan series - obviously, they had a couple of spinners that created issues for us.
"But if you are asking about a trend, that is certainly something that I should be addressing myself."
Flower will do so by consulting his coaching staff, and then perhaps implementing some as yet unspecified new regimes.
"I have some ideas on rejigging a couple of things in our preparation, in our management team firstly, and we'll see if we can do something about it.
"We always encourage our players to be honest with themselves, and each other.
"So then we've got to do the same.
"The coaches have to do that, and I'm the first guy that has to do it."
Losing a warm-up match against a New Zealand XI in Queenstown was perhaps a wake-up call, but not one which immediately resulted in an improvement once this series was under way.
"I'm not happy ... that we lost the four-day game - we go into those games trying to win them," said Flower.
"So that is not a habit we want to keep.
"We transferred some of the sloppiness that we showed in that four-day game into the Test match."
England's resulting first-innings deficit of 293 piled on the pressure, and Nick Compton answered the call with a maiden Test century.
Many concluded Alastair Cook's new opening partner has therefore booked his place at the top of the order for the Ashes.
Flower's natural caution prevents him from confirming that as yet, but he said: "I'm very happy for him, and most importantly he did it for the side.
"It was great to see him get the big score he's been after.
"There are no guarantees about the future for any of us, and the Ashes is still a little way away.
"So let's just take it one step at a time."
There are no such caveats over Cook, already England's most prolific all-time centurion even before his 24th in a record stand of 231 with Compton.
Flower would be delighted if others could follow the captain's example.
"He's a hugely impressive bloke," said Flower.
"He's handled the captaincy very well, and has also led from the front with the bat.
"We need some of our other top-order batsmen to do the same."
Among them is Kevin Pietersen, who has so far failed to find his form here and also spent most of the afternoon session off the field on day three in Dunedin because of discomfort in his knee.
Flower does not anticipate a significant problem, however.
"He's got a little bit of pain in his right knee, but most of the players play with something that's sore most of the time," he said.
There is also optimism already about Graeme Swann's fitness for the summer ahead.
The off-spinner is to have a second operation on his bowling elbow in America, having missed the first Test and had to leave the tour because of a recurrence of the long-term injury.
Flower appears encouraged, however, by medical advice available on how quickly the 33-year-old can recover.
"He's a really important part of our attack, and we want him fully fit and firing for the priorities in the English summer," added Flower.
"The Champions Trophy is obviously one of those, and we all know that the Ashes series is looming in the second half of the summer.
"We need him fit for that - and by the sounds of things he should be able, God willing, to be fit for the start of the summer."