Grant Flower, born on December 20, 1970 had to live in the shadows of his elder brother — Andy Flower for a longtime. He though, with a disarming smile and a rock-solid technique had his fair share of success in the international arena. Bharath Ramaraj has more.
Playing professional sport in the shadow of your more famous elder brother is never easy. Invariably, comparisons will be drawn between the two and that can lead to a cricketer losing the plot due to such immense pressure around him. Grant Flower always had to live with the fact that he would be compared with arguably the only world-class cricketer to come out of Zimbabwe‘s cricketing stables and his elder brother — Andy Flower. However, Grant Flower too carved out a fine career for himself, especially in the abridged version of the game.
Born on December 20, 1970 in Salisbury (Harare), Grant Flower went to North Park school along with his brother — Andy Flower. In fact, during those days, Grant Flower was believed to be a fine seamer and was not known for his batting prowess. It was only when he went to high school at St George’s College that he started to be recognised for his fine batsmanship and left-arm spin bowling.
Grant Flower made his First-Class debut for Zimbabwe against a strong England A setup in 1990. In only his second game against the likes of Alan Igglesden, Martin Bicknell, Richard Illingworth and the Essex all-rounder John Stephenson, he essayed a half-century in the unofficial Test match played at Harare. Incidentally, he shared a century partnership with his elder brother, Andy Flower in that game. Even when Zimbabwe played a three-day match against Lancashire in their own den at Old Trafford in 1990, Grant Flower played with gusto and energetic stamina to stand up to the task of playing against Wasim Akram, Ian Austin, Mike Watkinson and Gary Yates and essay a half-century.
At the tender age of 19, Grant Flower followed up those tenacious innings against Lancashire and England A by accruing mountains of runs in the International Cricket Council (ICC) trophy in 1990. Zimbabwe went onto win the ICC trophy as well that year. Despite being in prime form, he was surprisingly overlooked to play in the 1992 cricket World Cup extravaganza.
Grant Flower’s Test debut
By the time Zimbabwe gained Test status and India was about to tour the country in 1992, selectors just couldn’t ignore Grant Flower’s strong claims and they plumped for him in the squad. If the Indian team had come to Zimbabwe envisaging a nice wildlife safari experience, they were in for a rude shock. In the one off Test match played at Harare, Zimbabwe repelled the Indian bowlers with stoic resistance to put up a good score of 456 on the scoreboard. If it wasn’t for Sanjay Manjrekar’s timely hundred, there was a possibility of India losing the Test match.
Grant Flower himself walked to the crease with a gait that was brisk and twinned with a nice and crisp angling of his willow, he was able to defend Indian seamers with ease and score 82. Grant Flower’s rock-solid technique, especially when he played forward, it was an eye-opener for cricket pundits. It was also the Test match when Andy Flower made his debut. Both of them in the near future would turn out to be the bedrocks of Zimbabwe’s batting line-up. The brothers were given the name “Flower Power.”
When Zimbabwe on their return-leg toured India in 1993, the Indian spinners were expected to steamroll the visitors on tracks that spun and had plenty of bite in it. However, in the Test match played at Delhi, Zimbabwe put up stiff resistance in the first innings. It was yet again the Flower brothers who were in the thick of things. When the Flower brothers put on a 192-run partnership, the spinners led by Anil Kumble were scratching their heads in disbelief. If it wasn’t for Andy Flower losing his concentration to get stumped off Maninder Singh’s bowling, followed by Grant Flower after a patient seven-hour long-vigil at the crease getting out to the same bowler, Zimbabwe could have very well escaped from defeat. Even on a personal front, it was a bitter-sweet day for Grant Flower, as he was dismissed four runs short of what would have been a truly deserving hundred.
Grant Flower had to wait for a few more years to notch up his first hundred. The long awaited cherished moment arrived at Harare in 1995 against Pakistan. Grant Flower in that game didn’t just score a hundred, but went onto make a double-ton. His untiring defence paved the way for Zimbabwe’s first Test victory. Yes, the Pakistan side seemed to be ravaged, as always by internal strife. But to essay a double-hundred against the likes of Wasim Akram and Aaqib Javed takes some doing. During that year, Grant Flower along with his brother Andy Flower, got a rare chance to play for Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) against the Minor Counties to celebrate hundred years of Minor Counties Cricket at Lord’s Cricket Ground. In that game, he played with County stalwarts like Nick Cook of Northamptonshire and John Stephenson.
Aftermath of playing for MCC, he struggled to come to terms with the fierce pace and aggression of Allan Donald and Brett Schultz in a Test match played between South Africa and Zimbabwe at Harare in 1995. Even during the tour of New Zealand in 1995-96 season, barring a few half-centuries, he didn’t exactly set the world on fire. Actually, at that time of his career, it seemed like the competitive juices from Grant Flower flowed only when Zimbabwe played Pakistan. By the end of 1996, he was yet again a thorn in Pakistan’s flesh with his backs-to-the-wall hundred against the fearsome duo of Waqar Younis and Wasim Akram.
When New Zealand toured Zimbabwe in 1997 with what was more like a side that was in a rebuilding phase, Grant Flower touched lofty heights with twin hundreds at Harare. Yet again, Zimbabwe came so close to winning a Test, but New Zealand somehow escaped from the jaws of defeat, largely on the back of Chris Carins’ defiant-rearguard action.
Even though, Grant Flower essayed a hundred against his favourite opposition, Pakistan in 1998, his Test match form was on the wane. In fact, Grant Flower’s century against India at Nagpur in 2000 turned out to be the final time he crossed the three figure-mark in Test cricket.
Strangely, for a batsman known for having a fine defensive technique, it was in One-Day Internationals (ODIs) that he started to blossom during the later part of his career. In 2000, in the NatWest tri-series, by coming into bat lower down the order at the No 6 slot, he wowed the crowd with his magical pyrotechnics to leave the West Indies’ in a state of shock. Zimbabwe went onto win the game after being in a spot of bother. The writer believes Grant Flower’s masterful innings against the West Indies is criminally underrated by cricket historians. In 2001, when England toured Zimbabwe for a bilateral ODI series, Grant Flower was in prolific touch. But sadly, Zimbabwe lost the series 5-0.
With Zimbabwe in midst of a political upheaval and senior players being disenchanted by the functioning of the Zimbabwe Cricket Board (ZCB), it was only a matter of time before Grant Flower was going to quit playing for his nation. By the end of 2004, he followed in his elder brother’s footsteps by joining Essex County. He served the Essex County with distinction and devotion, especially in the shorter versions of the game. He was at the peak of his prowess between 2008 to 2010, when he regularly topped the batting charts for Essex Eagles in List A games.
Grant Flower finally hung up his boots for his county in 2010. With the situation in Zimbabwe marginally improving, he came back to play ODIs for his country in 2010. His recall from the lonely world of wilderness shocked cricketing circles. He though, played for his country in just one series against South Africa. He continued to don the role of batting coach and mentoring a young Zimbabwe line-up for some time to come. His return to Zimbabwean set-up showed his unconditional love to help out his own country.
Grant Flower’s records may not make for a great reading. But the affable and unassuming cricketer with a jaunty smile had his fair share of intrepid performances during his career. Lest we forget that he also took two four-fors as a left-arm spinner in ODI cricket. In short, Grant Flower would certainly go down into the annals of Zimbabwe cricket as one of the finest cricketers to have come out of that country.
In Photos: Grant Flower’s cricketing career.
(Bharath Ramaraj, an MBA in marketing, eats, drinks and sleeps cricket. He has played at school and college-level, and now channelises his passion for the game by writing about it)
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