BRIAN GOREDEMA at Harare Sports Club
ANDY Flower, Zimbabwe’s greatest cricketer of all time, is enjoying every bit of his homecoming, making time to catch up with old friends away from his TV commentary work during the World Cup Qualifiers currently underway in the country.
It’s a mini-World Cup for the second-tier teams of world cricket, if you take away Sri Lanka and West Indies from that category, and perhaps in-form Zimbabwe.
Sri Lanka and West Indies are firm favourites to claim the two qualification slots but host Zimbabwe, lifted by momentum and home advantage, are a team not short of self-assurance at the moment.
“It’s going to be a high pressure tournament, especially for these bigger nations, one slip up and that could be it,” Flower told The NewsHawks during a commentary break.
“It’s going to be a wonderful tournament to witness.”
One aspect of the tournament that has left the legendary wicketkeeper-batsman charmed is the bumper crowds, particularly during Zimbabwe’s games.
The 55-year-old former number one Test batsman was speaking as Zimbabwe easily defeated Nepal by eight wickets at Harare Sports Club last Sunday on the opening day of the tournament.
“This crowd is sensational, the atmosphere at the ground is wonderful,” commented Flower.
“They are not only here to enjoy themselves, but they are watching every ball – a very knowledgeable crowd. They know what is happening. They are shouting from ball one to the last ball. It’s genuinely heartening and heart-warming to see it.”
It is to be expected, with cricket having made significant inroads into the country’s majority population over the years.
Even though, Flower could not resist drawing comparisons.
“I was talking to (former Zimbabwe teammates) Dirk Viljoen and Mpumelelo Mbangwa earlier in the day and comparing it (the crowd) to some of the occasional raucous crowd we had when we used to play, this atmosphere is much better than that, it is brilliant,” Flower said.
His work during the tournament is focussed on all teams, a neutral in every respect, but away from the commentary box Flower’s heart is obviously with the homeland.
He will be hugely gratified with Zimbabwe’s batting performance so far in the tournament, and for a man famous worldwide for his blossoming sweep shot, Flower likes what he has seen.
“I think we have a nation of young cricketers that are quite good sweepers,” he said.
“Watching Craig Ervine play today, he sweeps beautifully. I think it was all started by (Zimbabwe’s head coach) Dave Houghton. He was a wonderful player of spin. He used to sweep and reverse sweep, he was the first person that started that. In trying to develop my own game, I tried to copy him and I had success with it at domestic and international level. Those young guys would watch and copy me. One of the easiest ways to learn is to copy someone else.”
Protégé and former teammate Hamilton Masakadza, who is the Qualifiers’ tournament director, paid tribute to one Zimbabwe’s greatest sporting heroes.
“That’s a wealth of knowledge there,” Masakadza said of Flower.
“There are some things you learn from off the field or through coaching, but it’s totally different when you are batting with the person and they are actually guiding you as you are doing it, showing you some of the tactics against some bowlers and what shots to play in certain situations. It’s great that we have various generations of young batsmen that can play spin quite well and that stands them in good stead when they go to the sub-continent, or play on some of our pitches that are slower and conducive to spin.”