Andy Flower, born April 28, 1968, was unarguably the greatest cricketer to emerge from Zimbabwe, who tormented almost every opposition, irrespective of the conditions. Despite being a wicket-keeper, and a captain at that, his batting seldom took a dip. Karthik Parimal looks back at the magnificent career of the southpaw, who is currently England’s exceptional coach.
In cricket, tales of players who’ve single-handedly steered their sides to various peaks consistently, for a substantial length of time, are not rare. Such stalwarts possess an incredible ability to pull through, despite little help from the rest of the entourage. Andy Flower belonged to this elite bracket. Hailing originally from the picturesque nation of South Africa, he moved to Zimbabwe, a place where his cricketing roots were initially established and in due course of time made him one of the finest in the country. A little over a decade ago, he was, without doubt, the face of Zimbabwe’s cricket, for his exploits were by no means banal.
In a career that spanned over 10 years, Flower featured in 63 Tests and 213 One-Day Internationals (ODI), averaging 51.54 and 35.34 respectively, thereby enabling him to confidently claim that his role in Zimbabwe’s resurgence was phenomenal. To say that he was a thorn in the flesh of his rivals would be an understatement. The repertoire of his strokes left bowlers dumbstruck and the precision with which he dismantled oppositions consistently won him accolades. When most overseas batsmen struggled against spitting cobras on Indian tracks, Flower unfurled the reverse sweep — a shot that was played so flawlessly that it soon became his trademark. Such was the level at which he usually operated.
Flower was blessed to have been born in a family that enjoyed its sport. At the age of 10, when he landed in Zimbabwe from South Africa, he was engulfed by cricket. Soon, playing for North Park School, he was a known personality in the circuit as his scores grabbed kept hogging the limelight. By the final year, he captained his side, and the additional responsibility only managed to bolster his game —a trait, which was developed here and, that eventually held him in good stead for most part of his international career. He averaged over 100 during this phase and penetrating his defence became an arduous task for young bowlers.
At 15, he took to wicket-keeping, a field in which, not surprisingly, he excelled. Three years later, he made his First-Class debut, representing Zimbabwe Cricket Union (ZCU) President’s XI against West Indies, a match in which his contributions were minimal. Nevertheless, in accordance with expectations, his brilliance soon came to the forefront in the domestic arena. In the February of 1992, at the Benson & Hedges World Cup, he donned Zimbabwe’s national colours for the first time, against Sri Lanka and finished as the man-of-the-match for his unbeaten 115.
A run to remember
For the next seven years, Flower experienced the crests and troughs, which are an integral part, of the big stage. He took over the mantle of captaincy early in his playing days and passed the baton on a sporadic basis to the likes of Alistair Campbell and Heath Streak in the coming years. Captaincy seldom affected his approach towards the game, at least in the longer format. This is evident in that his batting average as a skipper stands at a sturdy 49.28, just two points lesser than the overall aggregate (51.54).
In the November of 2000, he embarked on one of the most fascinating journeys as a batsman. Smashing an unbeaten 183 against India in their own backyard, he commenced a surreal run of form. In the same series, he notched scores of 70, 55 and 232 not out. The following statement will perhaps aptly highlight his excellence: In 12 Tests between September 2000 and November 2001, Andy Flower’s run of scores read: 48 and 65 (vs NZ), 183 not out and 70, 55 and 232 not out (all against India), 79 (vs NZ), 73, 23 (both against Bangladesh), 51, 83, 45, 8 not out (all against India), 142, 199 not out, 67 and 14 not out (all against South Africa) — 1630 runs in 13 Tests at an average of 108.66.
Even during Flower’s purple patch, Zimbabwe could only muster four wins. This statistic gives a short illustration of the big picture. Throughout his career, Flower has, despite personal brilliance, been on the losing side more often than not. His innings of 145 against India in the 2002 ICC Champions Trophy presents an even clearer case. Chasing 289 to win, the rest of the line-up could manage 129 for seven.
The eventual slump and courageous protest
After that splendiferous year — termed by the cricketing fraternity as ‘Bradmanesque’ — 2002 began on a sombre note for Flower. His first four innings yielded just 20 runs and time in the middle appeared a drag till the commencement of the 2003 World Cup, which was jointly hosted by South Africa, Zimbabwe and Kenya. The atmosphere in Zimbabwe was uneasy, owing to political tensions within the region. This prompted Flower, and fellow teammate Henry Olonga, to stage a planned protest by wearing black armbands on the morning of their first World Cup fixture against Namibia at Harare. The powers that be were dumbstruck by the show of disapproval from the two players.
As stated Arunabha Sengupta wrote in his intriguing article on the issue, “the two noble cricketers did their bit to highlight the plight of their countrymen on the world stage, at the cost of flourishing careers and personal safety.”
“It is impossible to ignore what is happening in Zimbabwe. Although we are just professional cricketers, we do have a conscience and feelings. We believe that if we remain silent that will be taken as a sign that either we do not care or we condone what is happening in Zimbabwe. We believe that it is important to stand up for what is right,” Flower and Olonga’s joint statement read.
There would be repercussions and both players were aware of that fact. While Olonga was axed, Flower was spared on the pretext that he was the only exceptional player in the side. Nevertheless, once Zimbabwe were knocked out from the Super Six stages of the World Cup, he called it quits. “I have no regrets about what I have done at this tournament. The only thing I regret is getting run out when I had made 37 in the last match (his penultimate) against New Zealand,” Flower said before walking into the twilight.
The Golden Coach
Since hanging up his boots from the international arena, Flower became a prominent feature in county cricket. Once done with that, he was roped in as an assistant to head Coach Peter Moores, but it didn’t take long before he was at the helm of all.
Under Flower’s tenure, England won two Ashes series, both home and away, conquered the ICC World Twenty20 in the Caribbean, humiliated a top-ranked India 4-0, bettered their record in the United Arab Emirates, and Sri Lanka, and beat India in India. “Our coach, Andy Flower, deserves a huge amount of credit. He has been instrumental in everything we’ve done. He has challenged the players, he has broken down the methodology of how we do things in the England set-up, and he has had an incredible drive and ambition to take the team somewhere new and exciting. He has great respect from all the players and it has been a pleasure to work with him as captain,” said Andrew Strauss, in an interview to ESPN Cricinfo, as he bid adieu.
If ever there was an example of a cricketer who excelled as a player, captain, coach and person, Andy Flower’s career has to be it.
(Karthik Parimal, a Correspondent with CricketCountry, is a cricket aficionado and a worshipper of the game. He idolises Steve Waugh and can give up anything, absolutely anything, just to watch a Kumar Sangakkara cover drive. He can be followed on Twitter at https://twitter.com/karthik_parimal )