| FLOWER: Sets own agenda through protest
Johannesburg: He has not said it and nor has the Zimbabwe Cricket Union but everybody is thinking it.
All things being equal, Andy Flower, one of the best batsmen of his generation, will play his last game for his country against Pakistan on Tuesday.
His country' The words are apposite.
Zimbabwe has yet to call on Flower to surrender his passport following his World Cup protests against President Robert Mugabe’s government, but they have already disowned him.
Nathan Shamuyarira, information secretary for the governing ZANU-PF party in Zimbabwe, put it simply during an interview with a Johannesburg radio station earlier in the tournament. “Flower is...not a Zimbabwean,” he said. “He is British.”
Flower, Cape Town-born, Zimbabwe-bred and with an English wife, could end up being just that — British — or even Australian.
He seems set to divide his future between England and Australia, playing County — he was a big success at Essex last year — and state cricket. Rarely can a player have made such a stressful, unhappy exit from the international game, although teammate Henry Olonga — a Zambian, according to Shamuyarira — finds himself in similar circumstances.
The two set their own agenda in protesting against human rights abuses and “mourning the death of democracy in our beloved Zimbabwe”. They also wore black arm and wristbands for a couple of World Cup matches before being pressured to desist. Flower, in all probability, had accepted that his declaration would mean the end of his Zimbabwe career.
Aged 34 and still at the top of his game, he might have played on for several years more, as a specialist batsman rather than wicketkeeper after agreeing to groom Tatenda Taibu as his successor behind the stumps.
Flower will be remembered as a neat gloveman and a tenacious, flinty, formidable left-handed batsman who delved deep into the psychology of his art. No one sold his wicket more dearly.
If he does not play again, he will retire with a Test average of 51.54, his 4,794 runs coming from 63 matches. But there is still time to improve on his first-class statistics of 54.75 runs for each visit to the crease.
Only four men currently playing Test cricket — Adam Gilchrist and Matthew Hayden of Australia, India’s Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid — average more than Flower.
Flower, an articulate man who has played alongside brother Grant for most of his international career — they often call in Afrikaans when batting together to confuse opponents — made an immediate impression for ‘his country’.
He scored 115 on his debut as an opener at the 1992 World Cup against Sri Lanka in New Zealand while his Test career began almost as impressively, with half-centuries in each of his first two games and a century in his fourth.
His most notable exploits include an innings of 156 against Pakistan in Harare in 1995, when Zimbabwe recorded their first ever Test win.
He also averaged 270 in two Tests with India in 2001, making 183 and 232 not out as part of a series of seven consecutive Test innings where he passed 50.
Later that year, Flower made 142 and 199 in a Test against South Africa in Harare.
One more run and he would have become the sixth man in history to make a century and double century in the same Test — prompting former South African player Mike Procter to say: “He’s a machine.” Zimbabwe, however, as so often when Flower hit the heights, still lost the game.
His durability is also legendary. He made a record 174 consecutive one-day appearances before a finger injury ended the run.
After the 1999 World Cup, Zimbabwe lost leading lights Murray Goodwin and Neil Johnson. To lose Flower after the 2003 tournament is certain to set the side back years.
Sadly but understandably, he has not been quite at his best recently, despite two half-centuries during the World Cup.
Defeat to Pakistan on Tuesday, in his 210th one-dayer, will lead to Zimbabwe’s first-round elimination, leaving Flower without a chance to make amends.
He will still, however, be remembered as one of the greatest players Zimbabwe — or Britain, depending on your point of view — has ever produced.