Opinion: Stern Flower is a cricketing legend

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If rumours are to be believed, Andy Flower could well be stepping down as England coach at the end of this Ashes series. If and when he does leave he will look back on a team that has been carved in his own image and, like those Easter Island statues, the expression will be rather stern.

If rumours are to be believed, Andy Flower could well be stepping down as England coach at the end of this Ashes series. If and when he does leave he will look back on a team that has been carved in his own image and, like those Easter Island statues, the expression will be rather stern.

There is little flamboyance about England's cricket team, especially if you exclude Kevin Pietersen press conferences. It is about 'marginal gains' for an Andy Flower coached team. He has overseen England winning three Ashes in a row, won away in India, marshalled them to their first ever global trophy and watched them top the ICC rankings in Tests, ODIs and T20s.

With all this success as a coach it is easy to forget just how great Flower was during his playing career. Being a great batsman in a poor side can't be easy. Despite the brilliance of your own performance you will inevitably finish on the losing side more often than not.

You can spend your time effortlessly caressing the ball to the boundary, looking solid in defence and compiling run after run. None of this matters. Your bowlers won't take 20 wickets, you will run out of partners all too often.

There have been times when Sachin Tendulkar and Brian Lara had to deal with this during their careers, but Tendulkar at the end and Lara at the beginning played in world class sides.

Flower spent his entire Test career surrounding by those that didn't come close to him. He played in 63 Tests for Zimbabwe, and was consistently awesome throughout. He tops the list of Zimbabwean run scorers in Test cricket and ODIs, he has double the number of Test hundreds than any of his compatriots. In a team of minnows and also-rans he was a towering colossus.

Despite this statistically brilliant career he was on the winning side just seven times in a Test career that spanned a decade. Just two of his 12 Test hundreds and only one of his Test fifties came in a winning cause.

Flower is fourth on the list of wicketkeepers with the most runs, and the only person who can compete with his average of 53.7 as a glove man is AB de Villiers who is in the infancy of his career as a keeper.

Only Gilchrist has more Test hundreds while keeping wicket, and he played 41 more Tests as a keeper than Flower. Flower is a great in every sense of the word, but when great wicketkeepers are mentioned he never features.

Flower's career came to an end during the World Cup in 2003. As the Mugabe regime become even more of a pariah on the international stage Flower made his much talked off stand. Along with team mate Henry Olonga he wore a black armband to 'mourn the death of democracy in our beloved Zimbabwe'.

This stand was one of courage, and represented the end of Flower's international career. He had already planned to retire and play for Essex, but making such a public protest against a regime with a well-documented history of reprisals against its detractors was undoubtedly brave.

Flower had three more successful years for Essex, ending his playing career at the end of the 2006 in a side that featured his future England charges Ravi Bopara and Alastair Cook. He finished with a first class average of 54, forty-nine hundreds and over 16,000 first class runs.

Flower was in the England coaching set up within a year, linking up with the national side as batting coach in 2007. From the very start he was spoken of in reverential terms by the players that came into contact with him as a coach.

Flower began his reign as England head coach with a loss in the West Indies as he took charge in the wake of the dual sacking of coach Peter Moores and captain Kevin Pietersen.

In the close to five years since England have lost just two Test series, away to Pakistan and home to South Africa. It has been an almost unparalleled period of sustained success. The inconsistent England of bygone years has become a distant memory.

In a very real sense, the first two years following his eventual departure will be the greatest test of the culture, methods and structures that he has spent much of the last five years building.

There are many that don't love this England. They are combative, hard-nosed, gritty, unfussy, effective and professional, in both the good and the bad senses. For every time you see England execute a well laid plan against an opponent you will see them tying shoe laces to waste time or making 'effective' use of substitute fielders.

His England has no interest in entertaining, as James Faulkner made clear when he criticised England's go slow batting on the third day at the Oval. They are interested in results, and they will do what they can to win.

They will stretch laws and playing conditions to breaking point and pitches will be prepared to suit the home team. Watching Flower giving the ground staff at Headingley the hurry up when England were in control versus New Zealand this year showed how flexible he can be in pursuit of a win. This may upset the sensibilities of some, but it works. Sport is after all a results business and Andy Flower gets results, good ones too.

If Flower goes at the end of this upcoming Ashes series he will have been the most successful cricketer from his country and England's most successful coach. His achievements are astounding and he will leave a hole far greater than the gap between him and his Zimbabwean team mates.

When you are compiling the names of cricketing greats you could do worse than add Andrew Flower to the list, it is where he belongs.

<b>Peter Miller</b>

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