Flower prepares to wield power over Test line-up
There were no last-minute surprises or embarrassing twists. To general expectation and little fanfare, Andy Flower was announced yesterday as England's new team director. In his first year his task is to regain the Wisden Trophy by beating West Indies, to win the World Twenty20 in England this June, to defeat South Africa away next winter and to win the odd one-day series as well. Oh, and to regain the Ashes by seeing off Australia later this summer.
Nobody at Lord's yesterday told him it would be easy. But harness that little clutch of trophies and the greeting might change. Flower must quickly decide how he wants to approach these enormous tasks – by embracing a new team and fresh talent or by harking back to the past and including old heroes – like the former captain, Michael Vaughan. Flower's first official squad for the first Test against West Indies will be revealed on Sunday or Monday.
If there was scepticism in some quarters of the game about his lack of coaching experience and credentials, it was easily outdone by the goodwill and acceptance of almost all those who have seen him operate from close up. Without promising revolution, Flower indicated to his audience that he has big plans for England's future.
He is a quiet man whose determination and dignity are evident but he will make tough decisions. Flower will not be afraid to drop cricketers (or at least suggest that they be dropped to his fellow selectors) or to instigate revision of the backroom staff. When you have made a public and extremely risky stand against the pernicious regime ruling your country – which Flower and Henry Olonga did by sporting black armbands when playing for Zimbabwe in the 2003 World Cup – perspective on sporting matters may come more easily.
Such a rounded attitude to life will undoubtedly help him in dealing with an England dressing room which contains talent of a size often matched by ego. If Kevin Pietersen is the name that springs most clearly to mind, Flower should have no trouble from that direction. Indeed, while he will brook no nonsense – and has the Test record to back him up – the signs are that he has won over Pietersen as he has convinced most others.
England have now appointed as many former captains of Zimbabwe to be what amounts to their chief coach as they have had former captains of England in the position. If this says something about the state of English coaches that is an argument for another day. Should Flower be as successful as a coach as he was as a player he will lead England to sunlit uplands.
One who expressed mild concern yesterday was his fellow former captain of Zimbabwe, Duncan Fletcher, the most successful and shrewdest coach England have had. He questioned Flower's experience in the intensive sphere of international cricket where intimate knowledge of opponents is vital and of your own team worth twice as much.
But nobody who watched Flower as interim coach on England's recent West Indies tour doubted that he was the right man. The results did not all go England's way but the manner in which he gradually won round a potentially combustible dressing room was a model of leadership and persuasion.
There is more to coaching an international team than spotting a glitch in a batsman's technique at 100 paces, which was Fletcher's forte, and Flower's calmness, candour and knowledge of what is required are admirable qualities.
With some earnestness, England launched a worldwide search for their man. There were some seemingly obvious candidates, such as Gary Kirsten and Mickey Arthur, who have done excellently with India and South Africa. But despite the enduringly myopic opinion that there is no job like the England job they had no reason to apply.
Flower did and he brings something beyond Kirsten and Arthur. He might have plied his trade for Zimbabwe but he knows England and English cricket. He has always had access to a British passport which he now holds and after taking his leave of Zimbabwean cricket he played for Essex for five seasons, and averaged above 50 for them too.
"When I went on the West Indian tour I didn't know whether I wanted to apply for this job or not," Flower said. "Halfway through I made my mind up that I did. I'm ambitious for England cricket and I'm very honoured to be given the position. I believe that the last three months will stand me in good stead. I think things do change. I was interim coach for that tour. Now that I'm in charge, so to speak, things do change."
As declarations of intent go it was understated. But it spoke volumes.
How 'Petals' bloomed: England's new man
Age: 40 years, 353 days
Born: Cape Town, South Africa
Fielding Position: Wicketkeeper
Major Teams: Zimbabwe, Essex, MCC
Appearances: 63 Tests, 213 ODIs
Test Batting: Runs 4794,
ODI Batting: Runs 6786,
First-Class Batting: 16379 runs, Average 54.05
Test Fielding Stats: 151 Catches, 9 Stumpings
ODI Fielding Stats: 141 Catches, 32 Stumpings
*Flower led Zimbabwe to their first Test series victory against Pakistan in 1994-5. He is currently No 28 in the ICC's All-Time Batting Rankings, the only Zimbabwean on the list.
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