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Cricket World Cup: Andy Flower - a born leader

Andy Flower (right) & Andrew Strauss
Andy Flower has formed a formidable partnership with captain Andrew Strauss

By Sam Sheringham

When you have risked your life in the face of a brutal regime, being asked to save English cricket from itself must seem like small fry.

In January 2009, Andy Flower was appointed caretaker coach of an England side in disarray following the rift between coach Peter Moores and captain Kevin Pietersen that led to both leaving their jobs on the same day.

Far from being overawed by the task, Flower, who had no coaching experience prior to becoming an assistant to Moores in 2007, took little time to steady the ship and has been a revelation since taking the job full-time in April 2009.

Under the Zimbabwean's stewardship, England have won Ashes series at home and abroad, the Twenty20 World Cup and seven of their last nine one-day series - the recent 6-1 reverse in Australia perhaps the only blot on his copybook.

The way Andy spoke to players and the way he went about things from an early age, he always commanded a lot of respect

Grant Flower

By any measure, it has been an extraordinary performance, but perhaps we should not be surprised by anything from a man who, during the 2003 World Cup in his homeland, won international acclaim for a protest against Robert Mugabe's tyrannical rule.

Flower and his team-mate Henry Olonga - the first black man to play for Zimbabwe - wore black armbands for a match against Namibia in protest against what they called the "death of democracy" in Zimbabwe.

The act led to both being charged with treason, a crime which carries the death penalty in Zimbabwe. Fearing for their lives, they retired from international cricket and fled the country.

"We spoke out in a world which never normally likes to rock the status quo," Olonga, who now lives as an exile in England, told BBC Sport.

"We stepped above the parapet. We were cricketers but we wanted to show the world we have a moral conscience as well."

In taking a stand against the politics of his country, Flower displayed the single-mindedness, courage and determination that made him such a formidable player and have served him so well as a coach.

According to his younger brother Grant Flower, those traits were evident from their childhood days when endless hours of practice in the back yard led to the pair of them progressing through the ranks of Zimbabwe cricket.

Andy Flower
1968: Born in Cape Town
1992: Scores 115 on Zimbabwe one-day international debut
1995: Named Zimbabwe captain
2000: Hits unbeaten 232 in Test against India in Nagpur
2002: Begins career with Essex
2003: Makes stand against "death of democracy" in Zimbabwe with Henry Olonga
2003: Retires from international cricket following controversy
2005: Andy and Grant Flower become first brothers to score first-class centuries for Essex in same innings
2007: Named England assistant coach, ends Essex career
2009: Replaces Peter Moores as England team director

"We used to talk non-stop about cricket," he told BBC Sport. "We played with each other and against each other. We worked on each other's games and our own games, feeding off each other to improve ourselves as players.

"Andy was captain of his school side and was a natural leader. He has always been a big thinker about the game and I think he did enjoy leading a side and leading from the front.

"The way Andy spoke to players and the way he went about things from an early age, he always commanded a lot of respect."

Andy Flower's ability as a batsman and wicketkeeper earned him a call-up to the Zimbabwe national side and he was named captain for the first time in 1995.

It was during Flower's captaincy that the teenage Olonga earned a call-up to the squad. A tall but inconsistent fast bowler, Olonga remembers having to grow up fast under Flower's unforgiving regime.

"Andy was a hard task master," recalled Olonga. "He was a no-nonsense guy, he always demanded the best from his players and didn't tolerate weak excuses.

"I was 18-years-old and it was a case of 'welcome to the world of men'. Test cricket was harder than I imagined. I was a little kid and Andy didn't suffer fools gladly. You drop a catch or miss a run out and you will know about it."

Flower had two stints as Zimbabwe captain during a decade-long international career in which he established himself as a world-class batsman and wicketkeeper, scoring 12 centuries, and averaging 51.54 in 63 Tests.

After quitting the international arena, Flower dedicated himself to county cricket and Essex, where he played for five seasons between 2002 and 2006, including two with his brother.

Paul Grayson, an Essex all-rounder at the time and now their head coach, recalls the aura of professionalism exuded by a player who for a two-year period from early 2000 was ranked as the finest batsman on the planet.

"We had Ronnie Irani as captain and Darren Gough, who both had very strong opinions in the dressing room but Andy was hugely respected," said Grayson.

We would have discussions about various subjects and often Andy would keep quiet and then suddenly come in quite late on with a question or a point of view that nobody had really through of

Mark Ramprakash

"Personally I don't think Andy was listened to enough because maybe those two overpowered him a bit too much but whenever he did speak up it was always sensible and you always knew when Andy was speaking everyone was listening.

"Everything about cricket has become a lot more professional in the last 10 years and you could say that Andy was a little bit ahead of his time.

"His attention to detail is very strong and his preparation was spot-on, whether that was to do with fitness or diet, he was the ultimate professional. He has carried that forward towards his coaching style."

When he wasn't busy scoring hundreds for the county, Flower was studying for his coaching badges and becoming something of a mentor for aspiring Essex batsmen like Alastair Cook and Ravi Bopara, who would go on to become key members of his England set-up.

Former England batsman Mark Ramprakash attended the same coaching course as Flower and was impressed by the Zimbabwean's modus operandi.

"We would have discussions about various subjects within the group and often Andy would keep quiet and then suddenly come in quite late on with a question or a point of view that nobody had really thought of," said Ramprakash.

"In cricket, unlike some other sports, you do have time with players one to one, so you can afford to be very objective and very calm and Andy is exactly that.

"Some coaches speak too much, some not enough, and some have favourites. I think Andy would seem to get the balance right with all of that."

As the tributes suggest, Flower has a very modern approach to coaching, with plenty of emphasis on fitness and mental preparation.

Samit Patel
Samit Patel was shown the door for failing to meet fitness demands

His brother Grant paints a picture of a workaholic, determined to leave no stone unturned in his preparations for matches.

"He has read a lot of books about psychology and listened to a lot of tapes," he said. "He has spoken to a few psychologists and other coaches who have delved into the world of psychology.

"He'll find out everything that he can and won't leave anything to chance. Sometimes it screws up your family life as his wife and kids would probably tell you.

"You are away from home a lot and even when he's home he's working round the clock, doing homework on the other teams."

After seeing his playing days at Essex curtailed by injury, Flower jumped at the chance to join the England coaching set-up in May 2007, serving initially under Moores before being thrust into the hot seat less than two years later following English cricket's night of the long knives.

Flower's tenure could not have got off to a worse start as England were bowled out for 51 by West Indies in Jamaica, but his calm response in the wake of that nadir impressed many observers and, after drawing the remaining three games in the series, results began to improve.

A home victory over West Indies was followed by a 2-1 Ashes triumph over Australia on home soil and a 1-1 draw in South Africa.

In 2010, England won their first ICC trophy at the World Twenty20, beat Bangladesh at home and away, and defeated Pakistan 3-1 before ending 24 years of misery Down Under with an emphatic 3-1 Ashes victory.

One of the keys to England's success has been the close working relationship between Flower and captain Andrew Strauss - two men whose outer calm belies an inner tenacity.

Their England side are polished and athletic, with any player failing to meet standards swiftly cast aside, as Nottinghamshire's rotund all-rounder Samit Patel found to his cost when he was dropped from the provisional World Cup squad for failing to get himself in shape.

"Andy doesn't tolerate unfit players," said Olonga. "He expects all the players in his squads to be fit, something which perhaps wasn't such a priority with other coaches in the past.

"He is also a fan of players thinking for themselves and thinking on their feet. England do seem to have become great thinking cricketers in the last few years since Andy has been in charge."

One of the most striking features of Flower's regime has been the team's ability to bounce back from defeats. Some of their very finest performances have come immediately after abject showings, with the Ashes-clinching victories at the Oval in 2009 and Melbourne in December 2010 both coming off the back of hammerings.

According to Olonga, Flower's refusal to get carried away in the wake of triumph or disaster may owe itself to his schooling in the often tumultuous world of Zimbabwe cricket.

"Having played for Zimbabwe you get every single thing thrown your way, from dealing with defeat, to cricket administrators who are unsympathetic, to knowing what to do when you win," said Olonga.

"Andy has brought more of a level-headed look at what it means to win a series and a sense of calm to the celebrations."

If England bring home the World Cup in April, perhaps even this most steely of characters will allow himself to bask in the glory of what would surely be his greatest achievement of all.

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see also
Strauss wants shorter World Cup
20 Feb 11 |  England
Broad fires England past Pakistan
18 Feb 11 |  England
Zimbabwe target Dizzy heights
20 Feb 11 |  Cricket
England out to win Cup - Strauss
13 Feb 11 |  England
England World Cup team guide
13 Feb 11 |  England
England tour ends in heavy defeat
06 Feb 11 |  England
Strauss calls for one-day switch
05 Feb 11 |  England
England seal Ashes series triumph
07 Jan 11 |  England
Flower takes England coaching job
15 Apr 09 |  England
Cricket World Cup warm-up matches
16 Feb 11 |  Cricket
Cricket World Cup 2011
09 Mar 11 |  Cricket

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