Flower's Test record gives him instant credibility among England's players
By Pranav Soneji
Three months ago, Andy Flower had been the subject of a radical e-mail sent by then England captain Kevin Pietersen, whose blueprint for international success involved sacking head coach Peter Moores and his Zimbabwean assistant.
But following an arduous winter tour to the West Indies, we have since learned the genial 40-year-old possesses the power of persuasion in abundance.
Less than six weeks after demanding his removal, Pietersen said of Flower: "He was a world-class player and has the makings of a world-class coach." Not one for abrupt retractions, Pietersen's sentiments speak volumes.
Like a schoolboy struggling to keep his first crush under wraps from his giggling classmates, the England and Wales Cricket Board had been battling similar demons with Flower's elevation as Moores' successor.
After the protracted cloak-and-dagger histrionics; the hiring of a City-based recruitment agency and the public knockbacks from Tom Moody, Mickey Arthur, John Buchanan and Graeme Ford, England's assistant coach was the logical choice from a "very short shortlist" for the reported prized £250,000 team director role.
But with less than three months until the first Ashes Test in Cardiff, Flower faces a massive challenge to match the achievements of Zimbabwean compatriot Duncan Fletcher, who masterminded the indelible 2-1 series success over Australia in 2005.
"He's the man to harmonise the dressing room - he was always very good at that in the Zimbabwe dressing room," said brother Grant, who played 67 Tests for Zimbabwe over a 13-year period.
He was very thorough in his preparation and put thought into each series, the conditions the team would play in, the opposition he would play against
Former Zimbabwe team-mate Heath Streak
"Of course playing for Zimbabwe you didn't have the big personalities and egos that you do in the England camp.
"There are totally different pressures - the media, huge contracts that each individuals are on and playing against the world's best - all the time. Personally I think he will do a great job."
His Test statistics are the stuff of legends. In 60 matches over a 11-year career, the left-hander scored 4794 runs at a Test average of 51.54, topping the world batting rankings ahead of batsmen like Sachin Tendulkar, Steve Waugh and Brian Lara.
All this for Zimbabwe, the perennial whipping boys of Test cricket during the 1990s and early 2000s.
Wholeheartedly fastidious in his approach as a player, Flower would spend hour upon hour batting in the nets or devouring videos (this was pre-lap top days) of the opposition bowlers for any signs of weaknesses.
Fast bowler Heath Streak, who played under Flower during his reign as captain, said his meticulous playing approach will be replicated as coach.
"He's a guy who thinks a lot about his game, especially batting," said Streak, Zimbabwe's leading Test wicket taker with 216 in 65 matches.
Flower was considered the best reverse sweeper of his generation
"He was very thorough in his preparation and put thought into each series, the conditions the team would play in, the opposition he would play against - I'm certain he'll probably do the same with the England boys."
Flower has already formed a cogent relationship with England captain Andrew Strauss, following up a 1-0 Test series defeat in the West Indies with one-day success, a factor which would have impressed his interviewers.
"They (the ECB) must know how that relationship worked and what Andy Flower did, there must have been a lot of good work," said former England coach Fletcher.
"But they just got to see, under real pressure, when he is the top man, how he handles that over the next six months to a year.
"He has got some difficult tours coming up, but I'm sure he'll be able to handle it. They must be confident because it seems all along they wanted Andy Flower in the job."
While post-match interviews from Moores sounded more like lectures in media management soundbites, Flower is more comfortable with home truths.
"Losing the first Test can't go on - the facts and the stats don't lie," he said after the Sabina Park debacle, where England lost by an innings and 23 runs and suffered another opening Test defeat, a jinx which has plagued them since the first Ashes Test at Lord's in 2005.
While Flower eschews cliches, his actions really do speak louder than words - the man has more bottle than a brewery.
Alongside team-mate Henry Olonga, Flower made one of the most poignant political stands in sporting history, a black armband protest mourning "the death of democracy" in Zimbabwe at the 2003 Cricket World Cup on a cricket ground next to president Robert Mugabe's residence in Harare.
The remonstration hurt the cricket-loving Mugabe, who had once said: "Cricket civilizes people and creates good gentlemen I want everyone to play cricket in Zimbabwe; I want ours to be a nation of gentlemen."
His stand effectively cut ties with his homeland, yet Flower's humility meant he was reluctant to answer questions about his actions at Essex's pre-season press day a few weeks later. Cricket was - and still is - his priority.
Less than two years since retiring from first-class cricket, Flower cannot be accused of being out of touch with the modern game. "He knows the system and he knows the players in the current England squad inside-out," said Streak.
But what will come under scrutiny will be his approach to county cricket.
Fletcher was almost dismissive of the English first-class scene, preferring to follow his instincts with players such as Marcus Trescothick, Geraint Jones or Saj Mahmood, rather than picking in-form county players.
Moores was quite the opposite - rewarding Ryan Sidebottom and Matt Prior with Test caps on the back of consistent performances on the county circuit for Nottinghamshire and Sussex.
Out of all the summers to start your new job, 2009 could not be a more daunting prospect: a two-Test series against the West Indies, the World Twenty20 and then the greatest challenge of all - the Ashes.
But as former England captain Mike Atherton wrote: "You don't average 50 in Tests playing for a team such as Zimbabwe without a core of steel and you don't make a public stand against a murderous dictator without a bit of ticker."
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