Flower power fuels Rockets success as deep-play team survives final test

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Lewis Gregory punched the gap in the covers and raised his arm in the air. Luke Wood sprinted towards the pavilion, throwing his bat, then his helmet, into the night sky. Their teammates ran onto the Lord’s outfield, gobbling up the ninth pair of wickets that had dragged Trent Rockets across the line in a nip-and-tuck finish, one that went more like a 40-over slow- burner than a 100- shot.

The rockets took off and their head coach Andy Flower stood up in the dugout to breathe a sigh of relief. They had made life difficult for themselves chasing 121 on sticky two-speed ground, but the team he had built and polished over the past 16 months had performed well just when needed.

Most of the Rockets’ success in 2022 was due to their opening partnership, Alex Hales and Dawid Malan, who finished the season with 48.7% of the team’s runs between them. But in the final, they hit a combined 27 out of 26 balls.

Hales cheated on Josh Little as cover for a quick start, and Malan recalled why he decided to avoid playing his home games at this ground when he left Middlesex for Yorkshire three years ago. years, struggling to master a late-season pitch before falling on Paul Walter’s leading edge.

Instead, this win hinged on the Rockets’ depth and versatility. Throughout this tournament, they fielded a team with six front-row bowling options and a batting team with Wood, a man with two first-class hundreds to his name, entering at No. 10. On the court against the originals, the Rockets used six bowlers, each of whom bowled at least two sets of five; in the chase, six batters hit double figures, but no one made it to 20.

A host of versatile players has been a key feature of Flower’s teams since its earliest forays into the franchise circuit. “The ideal is to beat deep,” he told ESPNcricinfo. “There is no doubt that when a batting unit looks at the order and sees that you are hitting at No. 9 or 10, you feel a greater sense of freedom to attack. And the ideal is to have six options bowling…it gives the captain maximum flexibility with his tactical play.”

Flower teams invariably have variety in their bowling options. Rockets are no different: On Saturday night, they picked two left-arm spinners, including a wooden fast, two right-arm spinners, a left-arm spinner and an offspinner. Unusually they were wristless, with Rashid Khan (Asian Cup) and Tabraiz Shamsi (CPL) both unavailable, but Gregory’s smart and straightforward captain made things work.

Sam Cook, whose 4 for 18 won him the match award, said: “The number of versatile players we have is unique. We have lost a few players – Rash and Shamsi – but the depth of the team we We mean someone like Matt Carter, who probably slipped under the radar tonight, walked into the biggest game of the tournament and nailed his skills.

“That’s been our team’s biggest strength this tournament, depth. It’s a testament to the team and the recruitment that was done before the tournament: we had Lewis who came in at No.8, a guy with the ability to hit the best bowlers in the world out of the park. That’s quite a luxury.”

There’s a simplicity that underlies most of the Rockets’ decision-making. Whenever possible, they seek to create a left-right partnership between their hitters – Colin Munro has hit as low as No. 6 – and with the ball they ensure their spinners play in favorable games every time as possible. In the final, Carter threw 15 of his 20 balls left-handed, while Samit Patel threw 10 of his 15 balls right-handed.

Coaches and analysts are regularly criticized for their apparent obsession with these principles, but Flower’s success – his teams invariably reach the knockout stages of the competition they play in, from CPL to IPL, PSL to T10 – suggests they’re based on sound logic: Gregory’s game-changing six against Richard Gleeson, turning an 11-over-5 equation into a 5-over-4, was whipped over the short leg-side boundary.

The reputation as an intense coach that Flower earned during his tenure in England was hard to shake despite his success on the franchise circuit; shortly after the winning runs were struck, he found himself standing next to Kevin Pietersen on Sky Sports with a microphone in hand, gently ribbed by Eoin Morgan about his penchant for team meetings.

But it is clear that Flower has evolved. “He relaxed in his old age, you see,” Gregory said with a laugh. “You guys got him when he was taskmaster.” Cook said he became “a bit of a comedian” during the Hundred. “He made the boys laugh a lot. He doesn’t say much, but when he talks you know how to listen.”

Flower admitted some doubts after the final. “I thought we might have thrown it away,” he said. “These guys [Hales and Malan] have been brilliant up top…with them not scoring big runs and having some of the other guys participating, it’s kind of nice that it’s a team effort.

In the age of the franchise, the profile of coaches has never been higher. It was primarily a triumph for the Rockets, the men’s Hundred leading team with seven of nine wins – but it was also a victory for Flowerball.

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