Friday, February 26, 2010
If there is any discussion going on about the best wicketkeeper batsman, invariably one name that can spring to anyone's mind would be Gilchrist. Of course, Gilly was a outstanding cricketer, but what about Andy Flower? I have rarely seen him being mentioned. I have always been of the view that when it comes to wicketkeeper batsman, Andy Flower was up there with the best. I have been a great admirer of Andy Flower's never say die attitude as a batsman. The number of times he has come good with Zimbabwe in doldrums are just too many to count. So, let us just have a look at his career.
Flower's early career
Flower first came into prominence when he scored a hundred in the 92 WC against the Lankans. At that time I thought he was a very aggressive batsman, who was good at pulling and cutting the quicker bowlers, but as the years went by, he had to change his game as Zimbabwe were invariably dependent on him to get them out of trouble. Anyway, coming back to his career, he continued his good form against the Indian team as he scored a hundred at Delhi and tried his best to save Zimb from being follow on, but after he got out as expected Zimb collapsed which became a sort of pattern in the days to come. Actually, at that time Flower was inconsistent, though he had his moments like the first ever test win Zimb had over Pakistan when he scored 156. He did struggle against spinners and quickies who pitched it up, but he worked on his game and improved beyond recognition. His struggles can be seen by the fact that in the mid 90's, he had a dreadful tour of Lanka as Murali troubled him big time, but he came back strongly and was successful against even Murali in the years to come.
Flower at his peak
The fruits of his hardwork began to show as he was superb in Lanka in 97/98. He scored a hundred in the second test to give Zimb a glimmer of hope only for De Silva to hit a match winning hundred. In 99/00, he made a gutsy hundred at Harare to almost save a test against Lanka, but he didn't get much support from the other end as Zimb lost. He played for more than seven hours and was only the seventh man out. His ability to keep the spinners guessing was always a treat to watch as he had a good defence, could come down the wicket to alter a spinner's length and of course, he could play those sweeps and reverse sweeps too. Coming back to the series against Lanka, they had to watch Flower do another rescue act in the last test match again at Harare. Flower, this time around almost played six hours to play a battling knock of 70 not out to rescue Zimbabwe from a 3-0 whitewash. After the series was over, Ranatunga in desperation said, the team was only looking at getting him run out! It is no wonder that Murali rates Lara, Andy Flower, Haq and Thorpe highly.
During that time, Zimb won a series in Pakistan and again Flower came to their rescue in the second test as Zimb were struggling at 5 for 55 before Flower took them to a score of at least around 200. Zimb drew the match and as they had won the first test, they were able to win a historic test series in Pakistan. Another of his brave knocks was his hundred against the Caribbean team in 2000 against Amby and Walsh. He scored almost half of the team's runs, but sadly for Flower, they couldn't chase down a score of just 99 in the second innings and for once Flower showed that he was a human as he failed and Zimb were bundled out for just 63. His next epic knock came in India in 2000/01 as he scored 180 at Delhi, though he couldn't save Zimb from defeat as he could score only 70 runs in the second innings! At that time seventy could be considered as a failure for Flower as he was in such good form. At Nagpur though, he played for two days to save the test and remained not out on 232. Even now Ganguly maintains that it was one of the best innings he has seen in India. He continued his good form in New Zealand and when India toured Zimb in 2001, Flower's contributions helped them to a rare victory in the second test as they drew the series 1-1. He was just breathtaking against the Saffers as well in 2001. Flower, scored almost half of Zimb's runs against the Saffers as he made 142 in the first innings of just 200 balls and was the last man out. In the second innings he played another sensational knock as he made 199 not out by batting for almost 10 hours yet, he couldn't save Zimb from defeat as he didn't get support from the other end. It is still a incredible feat to see a player keeping wickets with the opposition racking about 600 runs and follows it up with scores of 142 and 199. It wasn't a pop gun attack either as they had Pollock, Ntini, Nel and Kallis.
Flower in one-day cricket
He wasn't bad in one-day cricket either. His almost run a ball knocks in NZ in 2001 took Zimb to their first ever series win in Kiwiland. Flower made 145 and almost took Zimb to a victory against India in the champions trophy in 2002. Zimb looked dead and buried in that match before Flower took the attack to both Kumble and Harbie, but in the end, they fell short by just 14 runs. He also made 142 of just 128 balls against England during that period only to see the bowlers gifting away easy runs to England as Zimb lost.
He finally retired after the 03WC, but he continued to score runs for Essex and helped players like Cook.
Critics of Flower
By looking at his strike rate in test cricket, his critics would opine that Flower could only defend and can't win matches. The factor they won't see would be, it was very difficult for Flower to play aggressively as the bowlers would gift about 500 or 600 odd runs and when he got the chance to bat, it was mainly about looking to draw the game. Now, how can anyone expect him to be aggressive as the bowling attack was weak and he didn't get much support from other batsmen yet,occasionally he showed that he can be versatile as a batsman. His knock of 142 of just 200 balls against Saffers, or his one-day knocks about which I have already mentioned about proves that fact. Cricket is a team game after all. The other point would be, there is a feeling that he was a bad keeper. I have seen enough of Flower to say that he wasn't worse than say Gilly. I have a feeling that people remember him for dropping some easy chances of Hick at Lords in 2000, but at that time he was the captain of the side and he wasn't said to be happy being the captain of the team, so maybe that was the reason behind his lapse in concentration. It has to be also said that it isn't easy for anyone to bat at number 5, to keep wickets with the opposition racking about 500 or 600 and to captain the side. A player needs to be mentally tough and Flower was mentally very tough.
Flower improved as a player by sheer handwork and the way he played spin after he improved as a player was a treat to watch. IMO he was hugely underrated as a wicketkeeper batsman.