Flower the heart of Africa

NatWest Series: Zimbabwe's cultured leader keeps underdogs snapping back

These Zimbabweans have been wonderful tourists. They have competed ferociously against a backdrop of terrible strife in their country, a damaging dispute in their camp and a gruesome early defeat which might have finished them.

These Zimbabweans have been wonderful tourists. They have competed ferociously against a backdrop of terrible strife in their country, a damaging dispute in their camp and a gruesome early defeat which might have finished them.

It is a huge affirmation of their characters as individuals and as a team that they have overcome these matters and on Saturday will play in the final of the inaugural NatWest Series at Lord's. Whoever the opposition are, Zimbabwe will start as underdogs, which is a long way from suggesting they should be underestimated.

"Winning would be the biggest thing to happen to the sport in Zimbabwe," said Andy Flower, their estimable captain. "Certainly since we won our first Test. This is a triangular competition against two of the big nations, away from home. It has already provoked interest at home, we've had a string of faxes and e-mails."

Flower is a candid, engaging and thoughtful man who recognises precisely Zimbabwe's place in the cricketing scheme of things. "We are the worst of the Test-playing nations, we know that," he said seriously. "Though I suppose Bangladesh are in it now," he suddenly remembered, brightening.

It is to the eternal discredit of the England and Wales Cricket Board that this is Zimbabwe's first proper visit, eight years after they were embraced as members of the Test family. Not even now has it been attended by buttons and bows.

Flower reassumed the captaincy last autumn when Alistair Campbell resigned over- night, tired of the personal abuse he was receiving in the Zimbabwean press and suffering a desperate run of form. It was not exactly the most willing of successions. Flower had the job before but found the combination of wicketkeeping, opening the batting (in Tests) and leadership too much.

"I thought long and hard about it because there's no doubt that it is hard," he said. "It affects the keeping rather than the batting, but once I'd made the decision that was it. If I was to do it I would throw myself into it. This will be the last time I'm captain."

Flower's tenure has coincided with the worsening polit-ical climate at home and burgeoning grievance in the team at their pay. Both have a had a profound effect. Cricket, who could care about cricket?

"The most unsettling thing about what is happening, other than people dying - and that is of course the worst thing about this episode - is that people don't know if there will be a future for them in their own country. Most of us were born there, and the fact that we might not have a future of any kind there is quite a worry when you're away. But all hope is not lost. It is a great country and the situation could still be turned round very quickly."

There was another issue which threatened the mood of this touring party. Discontent over their wages reached new heights. "This hasn't just happened. It has been a bone of contention for eight years, since players started to play professionally," said Flower. "This is our living, we depend on it and we have long been unhappy about our pay. Nobody wants to make fortunes but we must be able to live comfortably. It's bound to be distracting when people are constantly thinking about money."

To a man, it seems the players are all earning less, probably much less, than they would in civilian life. Their grievances were simply not addressed by their board. An arbitration panel has been set up which Flower seems optimistic will result in improved money.

But the dispute unquestionably affected the Zimbabweans. Flower was so upset at the intransigence of the authorities that he did no wicketkeeping practice worth mentioning before the First Test. It showed, and he knows it.

His team were affected too. The wages wrangle, the awesome prospect of playing in a Test at Lord's for the first time and a thoroughly efficient England performance led to a hammering. Zimbabwe knew they had to come back. They did, starting at Trent Bridge in the next Test, when England, whether they knew it or not, took them too lightly.

On the last day, Flower had the temerity to declare against all odds, a move which nearly helped to set the stage for an unlikely victory. It demonstrated in an instant that this Zimbabwe side might be full or journeyman cricketers but are not afraid to be bold.

Since then they have kept on improving, building up form quietly around the shires and peaking perfectly for the one-day series. Flower will not comment on the opposition, but it is easy to infer that he feels England have tended to patronise Zimbabwe.

He agrees with the notion that sportsmen approach games differently in the southern hemisphere. In Australia he was astonished at the positive way they approached cricket. "That was true of the Test team, state teams, up- country sides. They all did. It's something to do with having no fear." English teams, we know, have fear all right. But the Zimbabweans learned lessons in Australia to last them a cricketing lifetime. They return there this winter for a one-day series and will need to remember every point if they are to get anywhere.

Flower and his brother, Grant, were encouraged to play as boys by their cricket-daft dad. But club cricket was probably the limit of their aspirations until Zimbabwe's elevation. Flower's career as an accountant was abandoned.

He has taken completely to international cricket. He is, in every sense, a fully functioning batsman, who averages 40 in Tests and is a busy accumulator in the one-day game. He is, Lord's apart, where he dropped catch after catch, a solid, unfussy wicketkeeper who stands up well to his team's array of slow bowlers.

Flower is married to an English girl whom he met on his first visit here 12 years ago, when he decided to jack in the accountancy. His wife is in England, staying with her parents, attending the odd match. But Flower is a Zimbo through and through. He is proud of the country, frustrated at the terrible events there, sees a great future for the cricket team. He plays for Old Winstonians, a club for black cricketers. The potential is enormous. The black population has embraced the game and Flower tells stories of impromptu games in the streets of Harare and on farms in the country.

That is their future but young players need not only coaching but equipment. It is clear that the international players are not sure that their board have always performed their duties as assiduously as would be desirable.

But their team of journeymen ("Every player has a role to play," insists Flower, "some may get more runs but others bring aggression or spirit or fielding ability, they all count") have done their country proud. Watch out for them at Lord's.

Voices
The Sumatran tiger, endemic to the Indonesian island of Sumatra, is an endangered species
voicesJonathon Porritt: The wild tiger population is thought to have dropped by 97 per cent since 1900
News
Gardai wait for the naked man, who had gone for a skinny dip in Belfast Lough
newsTwo skinny dippers threatened with inclusion on sex offenders’ register as naturists criminalised
Sport
Van Gaal said that his challenge in taking over Bobby Robson's Barcelona team in 1993 has been easier than the task of resurrecting the current United side
football
News
news
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Beast would strip to his underpants and take to the stage with a slogan scrawled on his bare chest whilst fans shouted “you fat bastard” at him
musicIndie music promoter was was a feature at Carter gigs
Arts and Entertainment
Story line: Susanoo slays the Yamata no Orochi serpent in the Japanese version of a myth dating back 40,000 years
arts + entsApplying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
News
Performers dressed as Tunnocks chocolate teacakes, a renowned Scottish confectionary, perform during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Commonwealth Games at Celtic Park in Glasgow on July 23, 2014.
news
Life and Style
Popular plonk: Lambrusco is selling strong
Food + drinkNaff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
Life and Style
Shake down: Michelle and Barack Obama bump knuckles before an election night rally in Minnesota in 2008, the 'Washington Post' called it 'the fist bump heard round the world'
newsThe pound, a.k.a. the dap, greatly improves hygiene
Arts and Entertainment
La Roux
music
Arts and Entertainment
Graham Fellows as John Shuttleworth
comedySean O'Grady joins Graham Fellows down his local Spar
News
people
News
Ross Burden pictured in 2002
people
News
Elisabeth Murdoch: The 44-year-old said she felt a responsibility to 'stand up and be counted’'
media... says Rupert Murdoch
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Extras
indybest
Sport
Arsenal signing Calum Chambers
sportGunners complete £16m transfer of Southampton youngster
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them altogether

Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them

Jonathon Porritt sounds the alarm
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on