It’s difficult to overlook Andy Flower’s contribution to Zimbabwean cricket as one of their finest batsman, if not the finest. With more than 10,000 runs in an international career spanning over a decade, Flower put Zimbabwe on the global cricket map.
However, Flower’s impact on the game even after his playing days is enormous. The former left-hand batsman’s transition from a successful player to an even the more successful coach is a blueprint for the ones who are looking to go down that road. Having won two Ashes — both home and away — as the head coach of England and leading them to their first major ICC title — the T20 World Cup in 2010, Flower established his credentials as a top-class tactician.
In the recent past, Flower has been associated with T20 leagues. From working with Peshawar Zalmi to becoming the head coach of St Lucia Zouks, the former Zimbabwe cricketer is now looking to crack the T20 code. Flower will be in action in the Indian Premier League (IPL) in UAE as he will join the Kings XI Punjab as the franchise’s assistant coach.
In an exclusive chat with indiatoday.in, Flower opens up about Caribbean Premier League, his role at St Lucia Zouks and what he thinks is an ideal captain-coach relationship among other things. Excerpts from the interview…
How excited are you about returning to competitive action after the enforced break due to the Covid-19 pandemic?
Yeah, it’s been a long break. It actually gave me a really nice period of downtime. I spent a lot of time with my loved ones. So, there was a benefit personally. I know that sounds selfish, given there’s so much heartache and loss during this time for many people and many families. But so far, we have been very lucky. I have benefited from the downtime.
It was very strange not to have live sport and especially live cricket to be either involved with or watching. It’s lovely to be back, meeting new people and watching a new side gel together which is quite pleasing. So very happy to be back, great to be back in the Caribbean. So looking forward to the CPL and the IPL straight afterwards.
Do you think CPL 2020 is going to be the most-watched edition of the tournament?
I suppose it’s quite possible because people have been starved of top-quality sport. At the CPL, there is top-quality cricket and top-quality cricketers involved. I know it’s a pity that we haven’t got the outstanding vibrancy of the Caribbean crowd to entertain everyone in the ground and everyone watching on TV. But we still got an excellent product on TV. So far, we have some really exciting cricket played. It’s just the start, a lot of great stuff to come.
What do you think of St Lucia’s Zouks outlook this season? How big an impact is Chris Gayle’s absence?
It’s a pity that Chris Gayle pulled out but he had his reasons. I think those were based on spending time with his family and not being isolated from them for a long period of time. I think our owners respected that. But what that does is, it gives other people opportunities. For instance, there is a young Trinidadian batsman called Mark Deyal who without getting a huge score yet has shown he is really talented. As we know, you are never quite sure what is good or bad luck. Hopefully Mark will take hold of those opportunities at the top of the order and we will see another exciting left-handed batsman come to the fore.
Can you tell us a bit about Daren Sammy, given you had already worked with him in the PSL? What makes him as successful as he has been as captain?
Yes, I worked with Daren in the very first year of Pakistan Super League. I worked as an assistant coach at Peshawar Zalmi and Daren was captain. Now it’s really nice to work as coach and captain. I have known Daren a little while. I have always enjoyed his company. I love his passion for the game. I like the fact that he has got this nice balance between playing to win and being serious about getting the most out of his team. But he has also got a smile on his face. It’s pretty all the time. He is a real positive influence on any group. It’s nice to see him working with this new group that we are forming together. It’s great fun forming a leadership partnership with Daren. He is the heartbeat of St Lucian cricket at the moment. I would imagine that even after he retires, he would be central to St Lucian cricket for many years to come.
Do you think it’s going to be difficult for players to cope with the atmosphere due to the bio-secure protocols and lack of crowd? Is there a bit more pressure on the coach due to the existing situation?
First of all, I don’t think there is more pressure on the coaches. It’s just a different environment to coach in and there a few restrictions that make it a little more difficult. So for instance, before our first game in the CPL, we only had 2 practices, our third one was rained off. So for a new coach coming in, trying to get to know young players, you can’t find much footage on them, not many stats but they might be very talented. You get to understand their potential quite quickly without seeing much of them. So that’s very tricky.
Secondly, the strict quarantine at the start of this tournament was tough for some people. Some people take it in their stride. But for some, being restricted to your room for a week or 10 days is quite a long time to be in one room. We tried to maximise communication and ensure people were okay. And that people were finding ways to look after themselves, entertain themselves and each other and keep a positive frame of mind. And also, do a little bit physically, when they came out of quarantine, they could go straight into training to get ready for the CPL.
Andy, can you tell us what you think a coach’s role is?
The role is multi-faceted but it’s primarily a leadership role. As a leader, you want to bring a group together with some sense of purpose and direction. There are also sorts of things that are important in leadership but a couple of the more important ones that I would highlight are making sure people feel valued and making sure you’re including the management staff and the players informing your strategy. Making sure players feel they have a voice in the direction of the team and their own destiny. And that they feel empowered to make decisions without a coach or a leader constantly criticizing them or judging them too harshly.
Providing structure, I think is also important because just empowering players with very little structure may often lead to chaos. No one wants chaos. But too much structure could squash players’ talent — if they don’t feel free to make their own decisions, that would also be a problem and would restrict our chances of success.
What is the ideal relationship between a captain and a coach?
I think it’s important that the rest of the squad see that the coach and the captain have a good relationship that they don’t necessarily agree on everything all the time but can have healthy negotiations on various things. They can disagree but eventually they come together and are one voice. I think it’s important for the captain to feel that he has the power to make certain decisions. But it’s equally important to have a clear demarcation of responsibilities so that he understands what areas he is responsible for and the coach understands his area so that they can come together to make other decisions. If they go into that relationship with good intent, compassion and mutual respect, you have a good chance of it working.
With a lot of new T20 leagues coming up across the world, do you think cricket can adopt a football-like system wherein franchise-based leagues overpower the international fixtures?
Cricket is inching that way. I was going to say ‘inching that way slowly’ but certainly, the Caribbean is the best example of it. There are some of the best players in the world that have stepped away from international cricket and preferred the lifestyle and income from franchise-based cricket. There is a danger, there is no doubt about that. But I personally believe with wisdom and the right intent, the ICC will be able to balance the international fixture list with the windows for high-quality tournaments like the CPL and the IPL.