Gareth Messenger reviews Steve James’ The Plan (RRP £20), published by Bantam Press.
There are very few in a better position than former England and Glamorgan batsman turned Sunday Telegraph hack Steve James to document the transformation that has seen England’s national team rise from zeroes to heroes in just over a decade.
The two central figures in England’s rise up the rankings, Duncan Fletcher and Andy Flower, are men that James knows well, both professionally and personally. He played under Fletcher in Glamorgan’s County Championship winning season of 1997 before assisting in writing his autobiographies Ashes Regained and Behind The Shades, and he is regarded as Flower’s closest confidant in the press corps having known him for more than 20 years.
James takes us back to 1999 when Fletcher was appointed coach with England languishing at the bottom of the Test rankings after a home series defeat to New Zealand. His assessment of Fletcher is a man of ruthless dedication with an exceptional instinct to pick out players with the natural talent to succeed at the highest level, even if their county records suggested otherwise. Marcus Trescothick and Michael Vaughan were two such players to benefit from Fletcher’s eagle eye.
He also reveals Fletcher’s frustration at having to cede to the selectors when it came to certain players. When James wrote a piece praising Peter Moores for having the vision to hand Matt Prior his Test debut, it was met with an angry response from Fletcher. He was quick to remind James that he wanted Prior to replace Geraint Jones during the 2006 home series against Pakistan, but the selectors chose Chris Read instead. Throughout The Plan it is accounts of personal exchanges such as these that help to illuminate the narrative.
His description of Flower’s tenure is less revelatory but that is to be expected while he is the current coach and it still offers valuable insight into the Flower/Strauss partnership and how their cohesion and commons goals impacted to such positive effect on the team, both on and off the field. Above all, he emphasises the professionalism and dedication of the current set-up and the part that has had to play in taking England to the top of the Test rankings. A recommended read for all those that have revelled in England’s success and want to know more about the inspiration behind it.
Click here to read a review of Mike Atherton’s Glorious Summers & Discontents