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One-man army

Andy Flower: 142 & 199* v SA, 1st Test, Harare Sports Club

Andy Flower does not need physical stature to have presence. He does not need bulk to dominate. Occasionally a cricketer takes such complete control of his craft that he becomes a colossus to the opposition. In this Test, Andy Flower was thunderous, dominant and clever.

Two months before, he had dislocated and torn ligaments in his right thumb, bringing to an end his record-breaking 173 one-dayers and 52 Tests, every match played by his country since full Test status was granted in 1992. He was officially rated as `doubtful' for South Africa's short tour just a fortnight before the big brothers from south of the Limpopo River arrived, but there was no way he was missing it.

"They have humiliated us in the three Tests we've played so far and none of us - especially me - have done ourselves justice. I want to put that right. I will put that right," he said before the match began.

Flower was brilliant in the first innings and better still in the second. Facing a follow-on target of 401 on the third day, he had the audacity - and ability - to toy with an attack that was destroying his team-mates.

When Shaun Pollock moved a man from cover to make two gullys - a deliberate statement that Flower was vulnerable there - the batsman turned the very next delivery straight into the gap and strolled a single, pausing to thank Pollock for his generosity.

He smashed Jacques Kallis for a blistering boundary and then daringly upper-cut him for a second successive boundary. Kallis, angered, bowled the third ball in exactly the same place but faster than any other in the match. Flower left it, grinned at Kallis and then quickly offered the back of his helmet to receive the bowler's riposte.

Flower didn't just want to score a lot of runs, he wanted to get under South Africa's skin. He did, and it gave him as much pleasure as his tenth century.

Reverse-sweeping, upper-cutting, whipping off-stump deliveries through midwicket and driving leg-stump deliveries inside out through extra cover, Flower was making the firmest two-fingered statement a single man can in a team game.

A mere 53 playing minutes after his dismissal, last man out for 142, he was back at the crease in the follow-on innings, having replied "good" when Pollock told him it was being enforced.

Men surrounded the bat early in Flower's innings with left-arm spinner Claude Henderson operating over the wicket into the rough outside the left-hander's off stump. The ball was turning and the leg-side field was packed. So Flower reverse-swept and belted the ball to the boundary. Pollock held his nerve and kept the field. So Flower reverse-swept again, next ball, and belted another four. Pollock cracked and sacrificed a slip to plug the gap. It just wasn't supposed to happen in Test cricket. It was beautiful to watch.

Later Pollock tried the same tactic with 18-year-old Hamilton Masakadza and the right-hander soon became entangled. Flower's eyes told his partner to believe in himself and the next ball was, thrillingly, reverse-swept to the boundary. Flower nodded. Pollock kept the field. Masakadza steeled himself and played the shot again, next ball. Four. Pollock changed the field. Tactical genius.

With his point made, Flower returned to convention until, on 96, he rubbed salt into pride that was openly wounded by reaching his second century of the match with a thunderous reverse-swept boundary that cleared the man placed specifically for the shot by at least 10 feet. Take that.

The rest of the innings was a blur of unbreakable will power against overwhelming odds. Between 140 and 170 Flower slaughtered the new ball, Pollock included, with a series of square-cuts and cover-drives on the up. He was dropped on 199 in the final over before lunch on the final day which signalled his destiny as the first wicketkeeper ever to score a century and a double in a Test, but nobody should trust destiny. And never in cricket.

Last man Douglas Hondo was trapped lbw immediately after the resumption but the groans of disappointment around the ground were accompanied by smiles. Everyone knew they'd seen something very special indeed.