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A winning partnership

Flower-Strauss alliance demands Australia's respect, says Bob

Lord of the manor: Flower's firm hand is bringing the very best out of his England charges

Lord of the manor: Flower's firm hand is bringing the very best out of his England charges

Justin Langer is right to pinpoint the 'Andy Flower-Andrew Strauss' partnership as crucial to England's Ashes prospects.

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"Flower's firm hand suits the modern player; he accepts that they want to earn as much as they can from other income streams such as promotional work as well as play in competitions like the IPL, providing it doesn't conflict with England's plans."

Bob Willis

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In the modern game the relationship between coach and captain is crucial to defining the team's aims and implementing its strategies.

Flower and Strauss have proved to be strong, innovative leaders during their spell together and Langer is justly nervous about their joint capability come Saturday when England touch down in Perth.

It's no surprise that Langer holds Flower in such high esteem because there are quite marked similarities between the two former internationals.

Both were openers who achieved great things against the odds for their country despite not having great, God-given ability.

Since then they have succeeded in passing on their knowledge, application and desire to their charges - whether that be to Australia or Somerset in Langer's case, or England in Flower's.

Sure, the captain is the managing director on the pitch and I hope that remains ever so in cricket because captaining a team on the field is one of the great challenges in sport.

Focus

Strauss is a very strong character and won't be susceptible to the mental disintegration that Steve Waugh used to talk about ahead of previous Ashes.

This time the Australian captain, Ricky Ponting, is under far more pressure than the England captain.

Strauss has got his team exactly where he wants them now the distractions of Steve Harmison and Andrew Flintoff have gone and the players are all singing from the same team-sheet.

But off the pitch Flower's firm hand suits the modern player; he accepts that they want to earn as much as they can from other income streams such as promotional work as well as play in competitions like the IPL, providing it doesn't conflict with England's plans.

When it comes to the serious business of winning, Flower is right on top of things - as shown by his decision not to allow any wives or girlfriends on tour until after the second Test at Adelaide is done and dusted. I think he's got that one absolutely right.

The ECB tends to encourage wives and girlfriends to come on tour these days but it can be a distraction; it's paramount that England motivate and focus on themselves in the early days in Australia. It's a different story over Christmas and the New Year, however, when players tend to want their families around them.

Flower has also spoken well this week about the need for his players to "embrace Australia" over the next three months, rather than hide away in hotel rooms.

He couldn't be more right. While immersing yourself in DVDs and computer games is more understandable in some of the more forbidding places on earth, getting out and about in Australia and making friends is an absolute must.

I still have lifetime friendships that I made while on tour of Australia - people inside the game and outside it too - and it all helps the settling-in process each time you go back.

Strain

Meanwhile Australia appear confident that they will have Doug Bollinger back in their ranks in time for the first Test in Brisbane.

Left-arm bowlers appear to cause our openers quite a bit of bother so Bollinger's inclusion is important from that point of view, plus both he and Mitchell Johnson seem to bowl much better in Australia than they do abroad.

To my mind, though, Bollinger is a very ordinary bowler - mind you, you would have said the same thing about Johnson if you were watching him for the first time during the 2009 Ashes.

The bottom line is that it is going to be a hard winter for both bowling attacks; if England play six batsmen plus Matt Prior then there will only be room for four bowlers and that will place an enormous strain on Graeme Swann.

Aside from James Anderson, who had a fairly awful time in Australia four years ago, the others haven't bowled in Australia and that could be a problem if the overs need to be shared around.

Even if Anderson, Steven Finn and Stuart Broad bowl 60 overs a day that still leaves 30 to get through and, with the best will in the world, you can't expect Graeme Swann to be a negative, holding bowler in the first innings of a Test - nor do you want to bowl him into the ground.

The other thing that is not in the bowlers favour is that these five Test matches take place over six weeks - a tough assignment in anyone's book.

That makes me think that the bat will be on top of the ball for most of this series and it will be crucial for the likes of Finn and Chris Tremlett to mature quickly, while bearing in mind that not too many bowlers have startling first tours of Australia.

Follow the Ashes wherever you are - on skysports.com, Sky Sports HD1, Sky Player and Sky Mobile.

The first Test gets underway at 11pm on Wednesday November 24 on Sky Sports HD1. Before then you can watch England's four-day warm-up clash against Australia A on Tuesday November 16. Coverage begins on Sky Sports 1 from 11pm.