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An emblem for a nation, he came to be defined by one stark image… and for one boy growing up in Zimbabwe at the time, an item of cricket kit
I no longer have it, sadly, having passed it on to a younger cricketer, much as it was passed on to me. But I can still picture it clearly: battered black bag with a large, halting zip, and a sleeve stitched heavily to the outside to hold my precious Duncan Fearnley Colt, a bat I was barely able to wield but clung doggedly to nonetheless, despite an almost complete lack of run-scoring success.
The bat was the jewel, certainly, but when you're eight years old and living in kit-starved Zimbabwe, a Slazenger cricket bag packs an awful lot of street cred - all the more when said bag was previously the property of one Andy Flower. Passed on by Andy's father, Bill, it created a link between the elder Flower brother and myself, and while Andy neither had nor has any inkling of said link, it's one of several reasons why he's my favourite cricketer.
I've had many passing favourites, I suppose - when you're a cricket-mad kid with big dreams and a vivid imagination, all it takes is a Richie Richardson hundred or Waqar Younis five-fer, and suddenly you've got a new hero you simply have to emulate. Adulation is flippant when you have so many heroes.
But 20-odd years on from taking possession of Andy's old cricket bag, a sense of perspective settles in. Herschelle Gibbs or Ricky Ponting may still get the pulse racing, and Brett Lee in full flight may elicit delusions of speed. Over time, however, naming a favourite is actually quite simple, even if running through the reasons why doesn't leave me quite as elated as such an act of tribute should.
The bag isn't my only link to Andy - together with his brother Grant and former Zimbabwe captain Alistair Campbell (an unfulfilled talent to rank alongside any Mark Ramprakash or Vinod Kambli you may care to offer), Flower senior coached me at the Zimbabwe Academy in Harare - a rather grand term for a weekly net session among a handful of schoolboy hopefuls from around the country.
That was before he truly came of age as a world-class batsman, however. Before he played on subcontinental pitches as if brought up in the back streets of Mumbai. Before he climbed into attacks with an authority only Campbell and Davey Houghton had shown flashes of before for Zimbabwe. And before he showed the world how to really play a reverse sweep.
Accustomed to taking solace from the occasional fifty, or close-run defeat, Zimbabwean fans were used to being on the receiving end of world-class performances, not to dishing them out. As Flower's flowing knocks became increasingly frequent, the world began to take notice. "Late Blooming Flower" headlines may have elicited groans the world over but the relentless left-hander was exactly that.
|As a young Zimbabwean watching Flower, there was simply the unbridled delight that one of our own was the world's No. 1 batsman|
He may not have played with the gung-ho savagery of a Virender Sehwag, or quite the imperious elegance of a Sachin Tendulkar or Brian Lara; if anything, there was a determination to his game that nodded in the direction of Steve Waugh. But to be honest, comparisons were hardly of consequence - as a young Zimbabwean watching Flower, there was simply the unbridled delight that one of our own was the world's No. 1 batsman.
But despite 12 Test hundreds and close on 5000 runs in his 63 Test matches, Flower won't be primarily remembered for his time at the crease. Instead, it is his departure from the international game that will remain his enduring legacy. Donning black armbands to mark "the death of democracy" in their country, Flower and Henry Olonga began the 2003 World Cup in South Africa with a political statement that both men knew would effectively seal the end of their time in international cricket.
But the sacrifice wasn't the catalyst for change the two cricketers had hoped for - a forlorn group of schoolboys is a poor excuse for a national team, and a sadly accurate reflection on the demise of a country once rich in promise.
And so there's a sadness in recollecting my favourite cricketer, for he represents everything I used to love about Zimbabwean cricket, while reminding me of what the game and the country have since become. But I also remember the hundred at the World Cup against Sri Lanka in 1992, the twin Test hundreds against South Africa at the Harare Sports Club, and the imperious form in India that saw him hit 183 and 232, both unbeaten, in successive Tests, with two fifties in the remaining innings of those two games for good measure.
Above all, I remember an old Slazenger cricket bag that was once so treasured a possession; the bag is gone, but the memories of Andy Flower, bittersweet as they might be, will never leave me.
Dan Nicholl is a contributing editor at iafrica.com. This article was first published in the print version of Cricinfo Magazine in 2006
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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