Flower: Change or Zimbabwe has no future

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The Independent Online

Grant Flower has expressed doubt about the survival of Zimbabwe as an international cricket team and criticised the selection of the touring party to England. In a candid assessment, Flower, his country's senior player, said there had to be changes if the side were to continue playing.

"I'm sure something's got to happen," he said. "England are supposed to be coming out there next year. There will be pressure. I think it will be quite surprising if they actually come and tour."

On the subject of whether Zimbabwe had a cricketing future, given the turmoil in the country, he said: "I'm not too sure about that, in all honesty. If the politics stay as they are, then no. If things change then you might get some people coming back."

Flower's calm and reflective comments demonstrate that there are misgivings among Zimbabwe's touring party and that not all players are prepared simply to toe the party line. It has already been chronicled that he asked to join the protest mounted during the World Cup by his elder brother, Andy, and Henry Olonga. They wore black armbands to "mourn the death of democracy in our country", aiming to draw the attention of the world to the plight of millions of their compatriots.

"They thought it would be a bigger and better statement if it came across as just the two of them, one black and one white guy," said the younger Flower. "They were right. I probably wouldn't have helped myself, but I think that if you feel strongly about something you have to come forward."

In cricket circles, Grant is the other Flower, the one who has not bloomed quite so much. He does not average above 50 in Test cricket, his profile has invariably been lower. But Andy's international retirement has pushed Grant to the fore in every way. He is not to be underestimated, this Flower, either as a player or as a man who has opinions beyond the game.

Flower the younger, now easily his country's most experienced cricketer, has no ambition to lead the team in the present climate. "I don't want to be captain," he said. "I couldn't deal with the politics. If they went away and there were no quotas, etcetera, I wouldn't mind doing it. Quotas are a bad thing. I don't think people should be chosen on whether they're white or black but on whether they're good enough. They shouldn't be put in the side just because of their colour."

The Flower family has long been deeply involved in promoting multiracial cricket in Zimbabwe. But both brothers have declared their dislike of a selection system for the national team that favours black players.

Grant said the touring squad to England is not the one he would have chosen. He cited the omission of the former captain Alistair Campbell and the retirement of all-rounder Guy Whittall at the age of 30 as losses to the team. "They're very experienced players. Alistair would have been a very big help over here, he's a very good cricketer. He's underachieved and he'd be the first guy to say that."

Flower has not despaired of his team or his country, otherwise he would have followed Andy and others into premature retirement. He is 32 and hopes to play for another three years – "Playing cricket is all I've done". He hopes to live in Zimbabwe after he stops playing. "Ideally, I'd like to remain there, it's where I was born."

He is unselfishly aware that until now he has played second fiddle to Andy's violin virtuoso, although they came into the team together when Zimbabwe started playing Test cricket in 1992. Both have played in 63 of Zimbabwe's 65 Tests (each missed two because of injury), and at Lord's on Thursday, Grant will become the caps record-holder.

"It's nice to get up on Andrew on one thing," he said, smiling. "There's always been a friendly rivalry between us. I've been in his shadow a bit, he's become such a good player. I think at one stage we were on level par, but he moved ahead quite a bit. We both worked on our game as much as each other but he became mentally tougher than me, working on that aspect a lot more. That's probably why I let myself down a bit. I listened to his advice, of course, but at the time I was probably in a bit of a rut."

Flower the younger has had many triumphs. He scored a double hundred in Zimbabwe's first Test win, against Pakistan, and was the first Zimbabwe player to score hundreds in each innings of a Test, against New Zealand. He has six Test hundreds in all, and is the only member of the touring party to have one. But he knows his Test batting average should be above 30 and, with his status as the senior pro and maturity as a cricketer, thinks he can take it four or five points higher.

His figures are better as a one-day player, where his average is almost 34 (also with six centuries) and his jerky left-arm spin bowling is a regular part of Zimbabwe's attack. He has played 203 one-dayers, and another 11 will take him above Andy in the short form of the game as well. "Now that he's gone there is some added responsibility on my shoulders," he said. "But we've got some good youngsters here. I say little things when I feel the need. I'll impart some experience. I don't chirp on the field. I'm not like that, I try to conserve my energy for other things."

Flower has not at all written off Zimbabwe's chances on this tour, and their opening matches have shown that they have resolve. Like others, he suspects that going in as huge underdogs could work in their favour. But he estimates that their best chance will come in the one-day matches, trying to catch a new England cold. The team have experienced no difficulties so far.

"I don't feel any stress playing," he said. "There's a bit of politics but we haven't seen any of that and we have been looked after really well. Hopefully we can just get on.

"There are stages where I don't enjoy playing for Zimbabwe. If you're continually losing it doesn't help. But it's a new side so, like I say, there's nothing to lose."

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