His reputation came before him

You only have to look at Andy Flower to know what sort of man he is. Ask him a question and he gives you a serious, considered answer. He is polite, diffident, never steps into the territory that belongs to another and sets an example of fitness and good manners that must rub off on his players, writes Ted Corbett.

He was a young player, given to doing party tricks after a long day in the field, but even he was shocked at the way senior Test stars created a party atmosphere abroad.

We met up a couple of days into a trip to New Zealand and he wanted to know if I had been on tour before. “This is only my second,” I told him.

“I thought it would be much more disciplined,” he said. “But the truth is that it is a gin and tonic tour, isn't it.”

That was 30 years ago — he's soberly conducting his life as an experienced umpire now — and cricket has changed considerably in the last three decades.

The new England are the world leaders and they cannot afford to mess with their fitness or their reputation even if the England men in the Rugby Union World Cup thought they could make merry and forget the competition. Even though they were one of the favoured sides when the tournament began they did not make the semifinals and as a result a much changed squad has been announced for the Six Nations competition.

The consequences of their ill-organised trip — again to New Zealand, funnily enough — have been the biggest shake-up by England Rugby for years.

What is worse is that the team is shamed by the tales of drinking, partying and everything that goes with a good time and lots of nights out. Soon after the tour ended one newspaper scooped a report into their misbehaviour and that caused such ructions as that supposedly posh game has rarely seen.

Be sure there will be no report into the activities of England in the Gulf for the Tests and one-day matches against the exiles from Pakistan. I guarantee they will be early to bed and sober, train hard on their own and even harder when they are in a group and their whole concentration will be on cricket.

There is a very good reason. The men in charge — coach Andy Flower and captain Andrew Strauss — are both serious men, who relax only in the centre of their own families and that example has filtered down so that the team are carbon copies of their leaders.

Even the jokers in the pack — like the Tweet-happy Graeme Swann, and the handsome young all-rounder Stuart Broad — will not overstep the mark.

You only have to look at Flower to know what sort of man he is. Ask him a question and he gives you a serious, considered answer. He is polite, diffident, never steps into the territory that belongs to another and sets an example of fitness and good manners that must rub off on his players.

Strauss is the same. I have seen him at breakfast, properly dressed, certainly wearing a jacket if in the modern way he forgets a tie, and looking more like a man off to work in the City than a cricketer, saying farewells to his wife and young children. No one wonders if he will have big nights out and lead the choruses at parties.

But it is Flower who is the example the rest follow.

His reputation came before him. He was the finest batsman Zimbabwe have ever had, a good captain and a fine wicket-keeper and when he felt he could no longer tolerate the way the game was run in that ruined country he issued a defiant message to Robert Mugabe, the president and transferred his allegiance to Essex where he finished his career.

There is no one in cricket who does not admire Flower, first for his skill, his record and his leadership and secondly for his courage in saying just what he thought. In fact the whole world became more open about Mugabe after Flower — and his fast bowling ally Henry Olonga , who now earns his living by his fine operatic quality voice — walked out with the nation's hit men not too far behind.

When Flower retired he was appointed batting coach to England and when Peter Moores was sacked he was made team director which means head coach.

His first tour, in West Indies, was a disaster but since then he has got more and more out of a bunch of young players who had already shown their potential under Duncan Fletcher and Moores and who have now a firm grip on the Ashes and, after a ruthless summer against India, are indisputable world leaders.

He is about to become a unique figure in sport in the world. Most outstanding coaches in any professional game have not been great players. Some like Jock Stein of Celtic , Don Revie of Leeds United and Alex Ferguson of Manchester United won international caps but were not among the elite footballers of their age.

It is often said that they made their way to the top as coaches because they could not get by on skill alone. They studied — each in his own way — modern fitness needs, the way a player's mind works and how the game was developing.

Flower's man management skills have been as much on trial as his cricket thinking but in the gossip-ridden game where he has twice risen to the top there are no stories of dissent in the England dressing room, rather of a place where stars can thrive and young players can learn.

Vastly different from the days when “a large gin and tonic, please” was always the reply to the question “what does everyone want?”