Flower happy to see England flourish in the here and now

Coach has led national Test side to within sight of world No 1 spot but, he tells Stephen Brenkley, he refuses to get ahead of himself
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From time to time, Andy Flower still misses the old days.

Much less now because it has been so long and it is in his nature to look forward and not back. But it was then and there, of course, that he became the man he is, that his character was shaped, that he learned so many of the aspects of life and of cricket that he now brings to being the coach of the England team.

"I miss certain things about Zimbabwe, yes, but that's sort of dwindling the longer I am out of it," he said. "The most obvious one would probably be some of my closest friends and interacting with them again. But there are also things like the smell of the rain, or the smell of the bush, and being able to go fishing or into the bush, or just go to someone's farm. The freshness and innocence of that type of lifestyle, I do miss that. And I was really lucky as a kid, so lucky to grow up there."

Flower grew up there, started his working life as a trainee accountant there, became the country's most accomplished cricketer and left shortly after the 2003 World Cup when, in joint protest with his team-mate, Henry Olonga, he wore a black armband to lament the death of democracy there. The message rang round the world. He came to England with his English wife, Rebecca, and their three small children, played for Essex and briefly for South Australia, and six years later was appointed to the job he now holds.

Brought in as assistant by his predecessor, Peter Moores, he became England's head coach after Moores was deposed following a rift with Kevin Pietersen who also went as captain. Flower took his time to apply as he had thought long and hard about Moores' original invitation, entailing as it did his retirement as a player.

It has gone exceedingly well, though Flower is notoriously reluctant to dwell on it. There have been two victories in Ashes series, home and away, and England's first triumph in a major limited-overs competition, the World Twenty20 last year. If India are beaten in the Test series in this country starting later this month, England will be the No 1-ranked team in the world.

Some smaller triumphs have pleased Flower nearly as much, and he listed winning one-day series in the West Indies and South Africa, drawing a Test series in South Africa, "holding on in tough situations". And then: "Little things like Alastair Cook captaining in Bangladesh and watching him grow as a leader. These are all things that make me proud and thankful I'm in this job."

Cook has just become England's one-day international captain, an appointment that has raised eyebrows because he has been out of the side for two years. He is now one of three captains. Andrew Strauss is remaining as Test captain and Stuart Broad will lead the Twenty20 side.

"Our hand has been forced to a large extent," said Flower, as we spoke across a dining table next to the Bristol changing room a few hours before England took a 1-0 lead in the one-day series against Sri Lanka. "Strauss did not want to continue playing one-day cricket for a number of reasons. I think he has acted very maturely and in the best interests of English cricket and not in the best interests of himself.

"It might not seem perfect but equally it hasn't been done before so we don't know. It might be a more efficient system than we have been used to. I do believe that the three men we have got captaining the sides are good enough men to handle the situation."

In a novel approach to the appointments, the players were interviewed for their posts by a five-man panel. There was an element, as Flower cheerfully conceded that, as he had to do it when he was appointed, then so should the players. But there was something much more serious afoot.

"These guys wouldn't have been through an interview like this before where they have actually got to go and prepare, and answer tough questions in front of people who are judging them on their knowledge and understanding of leadership," said Flower. "We know a lot about them in the dressing room and in training and under pressure out there in the middle, but it was a really interesting exercise for us to get to know them better and in a completely different context."

Cook still earned the selectorial nod as was probably expected. It has not gone down well in some circles because of Cook's perceived shortcomings as a one-day player. To which Flower said: "He has been on the periphery of the one-day side in selection discussions over the last couple of years.

"He is a natural successor as a player, he is a proven heavy run scorer and I think he could become a very good one-day player. On the captaincy side he is a natural successor. Obviously no one is promised the job of Test captain, definitely not, but while I don't see it as such, it's inevitable this will be seen as an audition.

"If he didn't handle it well, then it would be an issue about him becoming Test captain. But having seen him in Bangladesh, I thought he was outstanding and I think he has grown further since the Ashes because of the confidence he gained from playing so well and leading as an opening batsman."

But the key to England's progress so far has been Flower's relationship with Strauss. To have watched its development, if only from the periphery, has been fascinating. From the unfortunate circumstances of their start, they knew they had to make it work or catastrophe loomed. They sat down before that first tour to the West Indies in early 2009 and divided duties and responsibilities. They really never have looked back.

If Flower is reticent about dwelling on what has gone, he is also hesitant about looking too far into the future in this job. He has to plan – there is an eye now on the Test series against India as there was an eye on the winter's Ashes throughout last summer – but that is different from expecting to be part of it.

"I am always looking forward and my responsibility as the coach of this side is to look forward and plan in the medium to long term," he said. "But for me personally I don't kid myself that this goes on forever and there will be a time for whatever reason that it comes to a halt.

"I have heard a lot of people, who know what they're talking about, say things like there's a natural cut off after four or five years for England captains and perhaps coaches. I don't like restricting myself with that sort of thinking. I much prefer to keep an open mind, not because I think I can do the job forever, I certainly don't. I don't look that far ahead because I know how quickly things can change and you can be out of this in the blink of an eye."

Flower is always cautious and carefully modulated when he speaks in public. He does not like giving much of himself away but he does not like being other than honest either. The one fact that he always keeps buttoned up is the identity of the team, even when it might be glaringly obvious.

Argue with him that it is only a game and he will respond that it is a game he is being paid to ensure his team has the best chance of winning. If the opposition know the team in advance because he has announced it they have a slight advantage he sees no reason he should give them.

England have spent a huge amount of time on the road lately and Flower has been with them every step of the way. From the point that he effectively (though it was not official until a little later) took over the team early in 2009, he has spent month after month away. Last winter 14 weeks in Australia was followed after a break of three days by seven in the subcontinent. It is a splendid job but nobody should exaggerate the glamour.

"It's certainly difficult and I've got three young kids," he said. "It definitely places stress on family life and you certainly need a great level of understanding from your partner and they and to a large extent me, in this instance, are sacrificing things.

"A lot of people would be willing to sacrifice things to do this job and a lot of people do much more difficult jobs and sacrifice a lot more. But you talk about my job and travelling as much as we do, it's tricky with a family."

There is plenty still to do with this team but there is a life beyond it. Down the line, he will have to do something else. He has begun to muse on what that might be. Nobody should take it as any indication he is going anywhere immediately.

"I have been discussing it with a couple of people close to me just recently," he said. "I don't really want to go into the details of those discussions but I am not terribly ambitious personally. When I am given a job like this job I become ambitious and hungry to do well, but I'm not hugely ambitious to chase fame or money or whatever it might be. But I also like having some sort of idea about what I might do if this ended quickly. I think cricket would play a part, it is what I have been involved in for 20 something years and studying if you like."

Much has been made of the prospect of Flower taking the odd tour off. It would give him the opportunity to recharge and to spend time with the family. Appealing though that is, the professional in Flower (and he is consummately professional) does not make it a straightforward procedure. Perhaps, too, there is the human element of letting somebody have a go and finding they do it well. He considered the latter suggestion and rejected it.

"I think it's a possibility that in x number of years we have a separate limited-overs coach and the Test coach and maybe have a specialist coaching staff as well," he said. "I can also see the players dividing a little into those separate groups as well if we play as much cricket as we do now and we continue trying to specialise and grow our skills and ensure that people are fresh enough to perform up to them.

"I do feel sometimes as though I need a break and if I have those feelings I will step down. We're trying to establish ourselves as a unit and I want to be there guiding and influencing it. I don't really want to miss a minute of it. I understand the insecurity of handing over to someone but that's not actually how I feel."

Flower is enduringly grateful to England. He first came here to play cricket in 1986 and was a league professional for some years later. It was how he met his wife. But when he left his homeland in 2003, two years after being the international player of the year, he found a welcome here which, it is clear, will always touch him. But Zimbabwe made him, defines him in a way.

"We had some really good cricketers around my era, cricketers that I learnt a hell of a lot from," he said. "These guys were brilliant to be with because they all had jobs and they would train and play outside the hours of those jobs. It would be lunchtime or after work until it got dark. Then they'd do their physical training, then have a quick beer together, then get back to their families. The farmers would be starting at work at 5.30 or 6.00 in the morning, the other guys would be in work at 7.30 and then they would all start again."

Those who have not quite put in the hours of training for England they might have done should digest that. But Flower insists that he is not looking for a bunch of gym-minded clones. He does not want triathletes but hard-working cricketers. Oh, and diverse personalities. "God, it'd be a boring dressing room if everyone was like me."

Despite, perhaps because of, the manner of his departure it is not inconceivable that one day he may return to the place that made him. "Zimbabwe is a huge part of me," he said. "My wife and I discussed this the other day as well. At the moment obviously it's highly unlikely but we would never say never.

"Anything could happen, if things changed in the country and our circumstances changed here and the kids have grown up... then perhaps. And I could be part of building something special back there." At present he is building something special right here.

Flower's wonderful England record

2009

West Indies (h) Two Test series: won 2-0

Three one-day internationals: won 2-0

Australia (h) Five Tests: won 2-1

Seven ODIs: lost 6-1; Two Twenty20s: drew 0-0

Ireland (a) One ODI: won 1-0

World Twenty20 (n) won 2, lost 3

Champions Trophy (n) won 2, lost 2

South Africa (a) Four Tests: drew 1-1;

Five ODIs: won 2-1; Two T20s: drew 1-1

2010

Pakistan (a) Two T20s: drew 1-1

Bangladesh (a) Two Tests: won 2-0;

Three ODIs: won 3-0

World Twenty20 (n) won 5, lost 1, NR 1

Scotland (a) One ODI: won 1-0

Bangladesh (h) Two Tests: won 2-0;

Three ODIs: won 2-1

Australia (h) Five ODIs: won 3-2

Pakistan (h) Four Tests: won 3-1; Five ODIs: won 3-2; Two T20s: won 2-0

Australia (a) Five Tests: won 3-1

2011

Australia (a) Seven ODIs: lost 6-1; Two T20s: drew 1-1

World Cup (n) won 3, lost 3, tied 1

Sri Lanka (h) Three Tests: won 1-0

One T20: lost 1-0; Two ODIs

Overall record:

Test P27 W16 L4 D7

ODI: P50 W25 L24 T1

Twenty20: P22 W12 L8 NR2

Andy Flower Life and Times

Born: 28 April 1968, Cape Town

First Class Career

1993-2002: Mashonland

1996-2005: MCC

2002-06: Essex

2003-04: South Australia

International Career

63 Tests for Zimbabwe, 213 one-day internationals

*February 1992: ODI debut against Sri Lanka in World Cup, scoring unbeaten 115.

*October: Test debut against India in Harare - his country's first ever Test.

*1995: Appointed captain.

*2000: Hits best Test score, an unbeaten 232, against India in Nagpur.

*2002: Named one of Wisden's cricketers of the year. Moves to Essex.

*2003: Alongside Henry Olonga, wears black armband in World Cup match with Namibia, in protest at Robert Mugabe regime. Retires from international game.

*2007: Named England assistant coach.

*2009: Made interim team director after departure of Peter Moores, before later taking over on permanent basis. Leads England to 2-1 Ashes win.

*2010: England win ICC World Twenty20, before retaining Ashes 3-1.

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