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Cricket World Cup History: Andy Flower, the first Zimbabwean cricketer in full bloom

ANALYST
Feature
343   //    28 Jun 2019, 19:33 IST

Andy Flower is seen essaying his famous reverse sweep
Andy Flower is seen essaying his famous reverse sweep

Andy Flower was one of Zimbabwe’s most well-known world-class players. He bloomed early in his career, becoming the third batsman to score a century on ODI debut during the 1992 World Cup. He became the sixth to achieve the feat in the World Cup and also carried his bat through the 50-over innings.

The southpaw's unbeaten 115 came against Sri Lanka at Pukekura Park, New Plymouth, in what was then the highest-scoring match ever in the premier tournament. He put on an unbroken 145-run stand with Andy Waller, which was a World Cup record for the fifth wicket.

Flower’s maiden essay spanning 152 deliveries was punctuated with eight hits to the ropes and one over it. Though Sri Lanka posted a last-over win, with a score of 313, the highest total at that time by a team batting second in the World Cup, the sudden blossoming of Flower caught everyone’s eye.

He might have made a dream debut, but Flower took his time to make a mark as a top performer. He took over the wicketkeeping duties from David Houghton and gradually developed into one of the best batsmen in the world. One of the most difficult batsmen to dislodge, he became a fine exponent of the reverse sweep. During the latter years, Zimbabwe’s fortunes were invariably linked to his performances. 

In the wake of his brilliant debut, Flower played a few cameos in the 1992 World Cup. He top-scored with 30 in a rain-marred game with New Zealand.

He was sailing along on 43 when rain halted the match against India, having earlier featured in an opening stand of 79 with Ali Shah. 

As Zimbabwe registered their first win after 18 straight World Cup defeats, shocking England in the last round-robin match at Albury, Flower snapped up three catches. Andy Flower had established a presence in his first appearance on the international stage. He was his team’s only centurion, highest run-getter and had the best average. 

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1996 World Cup, Flower's second major tournament

This was a sign of things to come, but the 1996 World Cup was a disaster for him. He was already captain and after two failures, dropped himself down to No.5. He continued to disappoint and reached double figures only in the last fixture, in which he managed to put together 28 runs. Oddly, he did not have a single catch to his credit throughout the tournament and affected just one stumping. It was a tournament he would have wanted to forget at once.

Alistair Campbell took over the captaincy in 1999. It was Zimbabwe’s best World Cup to date, thanks mainly to the exploits of Neil Johnson. Flower was now batting in the middle-order. He began well, scoring 34 off 46 balls and featuring in a 66-run fifth-wicket stand with Campbell, taking Zimbabwe to the doorstep of a win over Kenya.

He then hit an unbeaten 68 off 85 deliveries helping the side to a 250-plus total in the exciting and upset win over India.         

As Sri Lanka reduced Zimbabwe to 94 for six, Flower raised a 68-run stand with Stuart Carlisle. He was dismissed for 41 and the side could not put up a challenging total.

He suffered two successive run outs; cruising as he was on the second occasion in a Neil Johnson-inspired victory over South Africa. Zimbabwe advanced to the second stage of the World Cup on fifth attempt. Flower was unable to rise to the occasion in the Super-Six stages but he had played his part in the team’s fine run in the preliminary matches. 

A political end to a glittering career

There was turmoil in 2003. England declined to visit Zimbabwe in view of the prevailing political situation. Flower himself staged a black arm-band protest along with compatriot Henry Olonga over the policies of the government, and bid adieu to Zimbabwean cricket after the tournament. It was a sad way for the stalwart to depart when he still had much to offer. 

Flower had already handed over the big gloves to young Tatenda Taibu. By now he was one of the top-ranked batsmen in the world and, not unnaturally, had his best World Cup. He batted at no.3 in all the matches, save the last. As Craig Wishart pummelled the Namibian bowlers, Flower began with a knock of 39 off 29 balls with 3 fours and a six. 

After England refused to travel to Harare, forfeiting their match, Flower registered his lowest score of the tournament, falling for 22 against India.

As the Australian juggernaut rolled on relentlessly, Andy Flower put on 84 with brother Grant Flower. His 62 off 91 balls was comprised of eight boundaries. Despite a blitzkrieg towards the end by Andy Blignaut and skipper Heath Streak that took Zimbabwe to a near-250 total, the Australians were not tested.

There was respite as Zimbabwe took on Holland next. Though troubled by a groin strain, Flower again top-scored with 71 off 72 deliveries studded with seven fours. This time he combined with Mark Vermeulen and Guy Whittall in half-century stands. Blignaut and Streak again played hurricane knocks to help the team pass the 300-run mark. 

Rain caused the fixture with Pakistan to be abandoned and Zimbabwe reached the super-six for the second successive time. As the New Zealand pacemen exploited the early movement and bounce on the Goodyear Park track, Flower put on a resolute 54 for the second wicket with Wishart. Then wickets tumbled and Flower himself was run out by a Nathan Astle throw for 37. Zimbabwe crashed to 98 for five but Streak once again featured in a late-order revival. The Kiwis, though, were too strong in the end.

The match with Kenya was a frustrating experience for Flower. It was a vital contest but his colleagues flopped miserably. He scored 63 in a 101-ball vigil as the team collapsed to 133 all out. The jubilant Kenyans stormed into the semi-finals.

Flower made his farewell appearance in international cricket as the fired-up Sri Lankans made a charge for the last semi-final berth. The Lankans logged up 256 runs, and with Zimbabwe losing wickets steadily, Sri Lanka achieved their goal. Flower made 38 off 51 balls, hitting just one boundary, before he was trapped leg-before by another stalwart, Aravinda de Silva.

It was a tame end to a remarkable career.

No Zimbabwean batsman comes even remotely close to emulating Andy Flower’s splendid achievements with the bat. He battled resolutely for a team that struggled for the most part, a side that showed signs only fleetingly of competing with the best, only to slip into a quagmire again and again.

With Flower’s departure there is a gaping void that is not likely to be filled for a long time. There was so much focus on his batting that his role behind the stumps is almost forgotten. He kept wickets unobtrusively and efficiently for close to a decade. No one carried out this onerous dual role with more dedication. 

He scored close to 5000 runs in test matches with an average well above 50, and collected 160 dismissals. In ODI cricket, he notched up 6786 runs at an average of 35.34 and finished with 173 dismissals.

At the end of his career, Andy Flower had a total of 11580 runs from 276 matches, including 82 half-centuries and 16 centuries. Without doubt, Andy Flower is a legend of Zimbabwean cricket and an inspiration to players from upcoming nations.

Andy Flower’s World Cup batting and fielding record

Matches - 30

Batting record - Runs: 815, Average: 32.60, Strike rate: 68.25

Hundreds - 1, Fifties - 4

Highest score: 115*

Catches - 12, Stumpings - 3.

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