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By Amir Husain
Rated amongst the best Zimbabwean cricketers in history for his handy left arm spin and fine batting skills, Grant Flower played 67 Test matches for his country where he scored 3,457 runs including six centuries and 15 fifties. He also served Zimbabwe with distinction in ODIs where he played 221 games, scoring 6,571 runs with six centuries and 40 fifties to his name. His bowling record in both formats of the game also reinforced his utility to Zimbabwe as he took 25 Test and 104 ODI wickets.
In addition to being a brilliant fielder, his partnership with his brother Andy Flower was the mainstay of the Zimbabwean batting for a decade. He was his team’s most successful opening batsman, with one of the finest moments of his career coming during Zimbabwe’s Test victory against a strong Pakistan side in Peshawar in 1998.
Given his liking for the Pakistani side over his career, averaging over 40 against them and scoring 3 centuries including an unbeaten 201, it is no surprise that the 43 year old applied and was appointed for the position of batting coach for Pakistan.
In an exclusive interview with PakPassion.net, Flower spoke about his enthusiasm for the role of batting coach for Pakistan, the challenges of the role, expressed his views on his own style of coaching and the goals he has set for himself during this two year assignment.
PakPassion.net: What attracted you to apply for the position of Pakistan batting coach?
Grant Flower: What really interested me was that this was a new challenge. I had been doing the job for Zimbabwe for a number of years and this seemed like a good step forward for my career. Mushtaq Ahmed rang me after speaking to my brother Andy and inquired whether I would be interested in this position.
PP: What skills do you feel that you have that will help you succeed in this role?
GF: I obviously have experience as a player from playing for Zimbabwe and Essex. I also have experience with being involved with the Zimbabwe cricket team as their batting coach. So I have a bit of experience there and having worked alongside my brother, I feel that I can offer some of those disciplines to the Pakistani team.
PP : You clearly have a lot of experience, having played alongside a lot of great players and have been coached over the years by a number of good coaches. What, in your view, are the qualities of a good batting coach?
GF: The most important aspect is how you come across in front of the players, including your man-management skills and your manners. Obviously, your experience and knowledge of technique and tactics also means a lot but the main thing is gauging how a person plays and being cognizant of skills and weaknesses of individuals and taking it from there to complete the job.
PP: You will of course be working with Waqar Younis. Have you spoken with him regarding plans and objectives?
GF: So far, I have had one chat and it’s been very positive. Having played against him, I have a great amount of respect for Waqar both as a person and a player. We haven’t gone into exact plans but we will work on them soon. Obviously, everything has been a bit in the air due to the recent events in Pakistan but I am sure there is a lot of time for detailed planning to come later.
PP: Will you only be working with the senior players or do you also envisage helping out at the NCA as well as with some of the up and coming players in Pakistan?
GF: I have gone through my contract and it really encompasses everything. When the national team is not playing, I will be working with the Under 19s and also at the NCA.I’m really looking forward to that as it’s an exciting challenge as it’s not just the national team I will get to work with but also, as and when time allows, I will be able to offer my services to the Under 19s and other promising cricketers in Pakistan as well.
PP: As you are aware, there is no international Cricket happening in Pakistan due to security fears. Do you have any personal concerns about spending a lot of time and working in Pakistan?
GF: Obviously, I am slightly apprehensive about what just happened in terms of the attack at Karachi Airport but I have asked for some assurances and I’m really excited about working with the Pakistan team. I believe Lahore is generally a safe place from what I have heard from other people. The fact is that things do happen in life on which we have little control so I will leave it to fate.
PP: Pakistan’s batting in recent times has been a weakness for them. Have you seen much of the younger batsmen and if so what do you make of them?
GF: Yes, I have seen a bit of them and I think they are very exciting. Obviously the most important thing for a batsman is to find consistency. It will be difficult for me to pin-point issues or what I will be specifically working on until I have worked with those players in person. All I will say is that if we can make them consistent then with their natural flair, they will become a world class winning side.
PP: You make an interesting point about the consistency in performances of players, but how about the mental side of things ? How do you go about improving that aspect of their game?
GF: Yes, obviously the mental side is a huge factor and a lot of time these issues effect the best of players but it really comes down to your discipline and preparation, your diet and how you go about your practice and then there are skills such as leaving the ball outside your off-stump as well as knowing your own strengths and weaknesses. So, it really is a combination of factors and I am sure a lot of the measures I mentioned are already in place and all it needs is a little bit of fine tuning. All in all, that’s the challenge I look forward to.
PP: What is your opinion of the likes of Umar Akmal and Ahmed Shehzad? They both seem to have a lot of shots in their lockers but it appears that application isn’t always there. How do you intend to tackle those issues?
GF: Well, the first thing as the new coach, I don’t want to be diving into things straight away. I believe the first thing is to observe and see how the players go about their business as I don’t think any player wants the coach to come in immediately and start telling them what to change. The players you have mentioned are highly talented and obviously still have things to work on which I am sure they are aware of. However, one of the key things is to not only highlight the strengths and make them aware of their lesser points and weaknesses, but also to work on their strengths and improve upon those aspects. I think that’s the best way to go about things.
PP: The Asian mentality tends to be different from that of African, English or Australian cricketers. Will this be another challenge as you attempt to get the best out of Pakistani cricketers?
GF: Yes, this is definitely the case. English people in general are very regimental. Even I was quite a rigid player in the mental and technical side of things. The Asian players have so much flair which you really don’t want to take away. I want to find a balance of flair and consistency from the Pakistani batsmen and as a coach, this will be one of my biggest challenges to make sure that I never take away that flair because that’s what everyone wants to see.
PP: How can you prepare the Pakistan batsmen for the challenges of playing on the tracks they will encounter during the World Cup, particularly the Australian surfaces?
GF: Against Australia, you need to be more worried about a verbal attack rather than a physical one! But I am sure most of the players, if not all, are aware of it and if they aren’t, then they have to be made aware of this as well. Obviously, they have bouncy wickets out there and you have to do bowling machine work on the short balls. Having said that, the game’s come on a long way and players already do that so all the Pakistani players should require is probably a bit more reinforcement and a little more focus in this area. I suppose as you get to know the players a bit more, you can pinpoint the actual issues.
PP: Given that you have been appointed as batting coach for two years, do you feel that this is enough time to help the Pakistan players achieve their targets?
GF: I would say that is enough time. If there is no improvement in two years, then I would say that I am not doing my job correctly. Obviously, once the player is made aware of what improvements he needs to make, then its up to the player to make sure he implements the advice given to him. Unfortunately, the coach is usually the first fall guy and when things aren’t going right then questions get asked – but all that’s part of the job although I can bet you that you will see a difference in two years, one way or the other.
PP: How important is it for international teams to have specialist coaches? In Pakistan’s case, they haven’t ever had a batting coach for any decent period of time so does that put more pressure on you?
GF: I think there is pressure but then there is also pressure on players, coaches as well as managers and it all depends on how you deal with those types of pressures. Personally speaking, I will be happy if I can do individual, one-on-one work with the players and help them improve and that can only be a good thing. Coming back to the first part of your question, everyone’s got their different theories on the presence of coaching staff. Some people say that there are too many people involved these days. I know that the current England team have cut back on their staff recently but when my brother was in charge, they had a few more staff at their disposal and they made good use of those resources. So, I think, every team goes through these phases and it’s a question of allowing these things time and seeing what positives and negatives come through.
PP: Have you set any specific targets in the role as Pakistan’s batting coach?
GF: I haven’t set any such targets except to get to know the Pakistani players well, to be respectful of what they have done in the past and to be clear about what they want to achieve. Most importantly, I will aim to try to learn the culture and also to not to try and impose myself too much as an outsider, and to see what happens from there on. I am sure with my work ethic, something positive will come out of this assignment.
(Amir Husain is Senior Editor at PakPassion.net. The above article is reproduced with permission from http://pakpassion.net/)
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