Fletcher, Flower strike blow for Zim

Greg Chappell (India), Dav Whatmore (Sri Lanka and Bangladesh), Tom Moody (Sri Lanka), Jeoff Lawson (Pakistan), Jamie Siddons (Bangladesh), Bennett King (West Indies) and Geoff Marsh (Zimbabwe) were drafted in in a bid to emulate the unparalleled success Australia enjoyed for over a decade. Even England roped in Rod Marsh to set up their National Cricket Academy and the Aussie wicket-keeping great was part of the English National selection committee.

Cut to the present, though, and the Australian influence is almost dead, which perhaps mirrors the gradual decline of their team as well. Instead, Africans appear to be the current flavour.

South African Gary Kirsten piloted India to unprecedented success before taking up his country’s reins. Other two Africans in Kirsten’s league come from cricketing minnows Zimbabwe -- Andy Flower and Duncan Fletcher.

Now, who would have expected two players from a cricketing outpost to be guiding the two top Test teams? In stark contrast to the Aussies’ approach, which sometimes comes across as high-handed, Kirsten, Flower and Fletcher all work towards establishing a healthy rapport with the players and taking them into confidence.

Since assuming charge of England in 2009, Flower has shaped the team into world beaters, well almost. How highly Flower is regarded in England can be judged from the panic reaction when it was rumoured that India were looking to sign on the former Zimbabwe captain after Kirsten’s exit. Much like Kirsten, Flower too is a man not given to public exhibition of emotions, someone who prefers to stay away from the spotlight even in times of success.

He avoided the media glare when England thumped Australia to retain the Ashes last year and has had only sporadic, selective press dos in the ongoing series against India.
“He's a hard man to get a smile out of, I'll give you that,” said England skipper Andrew Strauss, talking of Flower’s temperament. “The most important thing with him is he’s driving us. He’ll be the last person ever to be satisfied with what we’ve achieved and he’ll be the first person to be disappointed if we did take our foot off the pedal.”

Flower was handed England’s reins when the team was going through a crisis in the aftermath of the Peter Moores-Kevin Pietersen spat. In the company of newly-appointed skipper Strauss, he had the unenviable job of restoring English pride, and he has succeeded to a great extent.

“The days of English cricket being kind of a laughing stock have gone, hopefully for good and for all sorts of reasons,” pointed out Strauss. “The challenge for us all is to make sure that it continues. Hopefully, people watching on television will either want to play cricket more than they did in the past, or want to be better cricketers than they would otherwise be.”

Fletcher’s early role in England’s rise has been widely acknowledged. Their last wins in the sub-continent came under him and the English ended their Ashes drought in 2005 with Fletcher at the helm. It’s an irony that Fletcher had to face his biggest test as India coach against the country he strived to develop into the best unit.

But for someone who foresees more difficult days for himself in the hot seat, it’s a timely wake-up call.

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