CPL 2020: No crowd no problem, says Andy Flower

St. Lucia Zouks coach Andy Flower said the players switch on their competitive spirit once on the field and they forget the stands are empty.

St. Lucia Zouks coach Andy Flower is certain that players won't find it difficult to operate behind closed doors.   -  SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

 

Andy Flower has been a traditionalist who played for Zimbabwe from the time it made a comeback to the international fold with a Test debut against India in Harare in 1992. Twelve centuries in 63 Tests and four in 213 ODIs was a distinguished achievement for this affable left-hander, elder brother of Grant, who played 67 Tests and 221 ODIs for Zimbabwe.

He was captain of the Zimbabwean team which recorded its first Test win, beating Pakistan, in 1994-95. He played pace with grit and spin with skill, aggregating 540 runs on his 2001 tour to India. He won the hearts of his countrymen when he, along with Henry Olonga, protested against the government for its anti-democratic functioning and shifted to England where he represented Essex from 2002 to 2006.

After finishing his playing career, he took to coaching England. He was assistant to Peter Moores and later took over as the chief coach. Among his feats were two Ashes triumphs and the World T20 title, England’s first ever ICC Trophy. Thrashing India 4-0 at home in 2011 was one of his finest moments and was followed by a 2-1 win in India next year.

Named Kings XI Punjab’s assistant coach to Anil Kumble, he is now at the helm of St. Lucia Zouks in the Caribbean Premier League (CPL).

He shares his views on the CPL and the future of Test cricket in an interaction with Sportstar.

Your views on the Caribbean Premier League?

I am new to the Caribbean league. First time out and unfortunately timed with whole COVID epidemic. But I’m really excited to be here. It looks a really exciting competition. I love the spirit and the energy of Caribbean cricket always when I toured with Zimbabwe and later again as a coach with England. I have loved playing cricket in the Caribbean. It's always fun, always attacking. And I can’t wait to get going with the Zouks.

How important are these private leagues to sustaining the game?

It’s an interesting balance between international cricket on the one hand and the franchise cricket tournaments around the world. These franchise tournaments are only growing in popularity. They are growing in their financial clout. Therefore they are going in their attractiveness to the player. And naturally to the coaches these days. They are very important in the cricketing calendars these days and there has been a shift in the importance and status slightly away from the international games towards these franchises. Money is part of that but also the importance of taking part in a high quality competition like the CPL. We are seeing this shift in power, a little bit of jockeying for position actually. I am sure the ICC in the coming years is going to try and find space for franchise cricket and international cricket.

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Do these T20 leagues pose a threat to Test cricket?

They do pose a threat of sorts to international cricket. But the problem is there is not enough time in the calendar for all these franchise tournaments and for the best players in the world to take part in them and also international cricket. This is the tricky balance that is to be formed by the ICC and obviously the ICC is made up of all the Boards of the main cricketing nations. It’s a serious challenge.

What is the strength of the St. Lucia Zouks team?

We are yet to see it exactly. It’s a new team, new owners. We still have Darren Sammy as the inspirational leader which is the real strength of the side. I see St. Lucia as a slightly smaller franchise than some of these like Trinidad and Barbados. I think we have got a lovely spirit from what I have experienced so far in the dressing room. And that is going to be very important for us through this tournament. We have got three Afghani overseas players (Mohammad Nadi, Zahir Khan and Najibullah Zadran) and one from New Zealand (Scott Kuggeleijn). Zadran is a middle order batsman who can hit the ball a long way. They are going to be crucial to us as are the openers (Andre Fletcher and Rahkeem Cornwall). Those are some of the key players in key positions and they have got to fire if we have got any chance of getting into the semifinals.

Having Darren Sammy as the captain? What can the youngsters learn from his career?

The most obvious lesson is that all things are possible. Darren comes from a small island where I think he is the first St. Lucian to captain the West Indies. And that is a serious achievement. I think that is the evidence of what can happen when people are given opportuity and Darren worked hard to get where he has got. He has done some brilliant things as a player in limited overs cricket for the West Indies but most importantly as a leader. He is a great role model for young players like Kimani Melius, the young St. Lucia opening batsman and West Indies Under-19 captain.

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Darren Sammy.   -  Special Arrangement

 

What is the striking difference in cricket in the times of COVID-19?

The most obvious one is the crowd. That’s where the CPL is going to be very different from its normal party atmosphere. We have all experienced the games where there is lot of noise, lot of laughter, there is lot of fun. Then there is a party afterwards. CPL times is not going to be like that. What I have experienced so far though at the Pakistan Super League earlier this year was we did play some games behind closed doors and initially it was very strange in an empty stadium with no noise at all. But as soon as the two teams get out in the middle and start competing, the competitive spirit takes over. They forget the stands are empty and they go at it just as competitively as ever.

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How does one stay fit and focussed with very little match practice before the CPL?

We have had a very restricted preparatory schedule because of the number of facilities available to teams. So we are having just three practice sessions before our first game which is not normal. That is not ideal either because I have arrived and not seen some of these young players before, other than very brief snatches of footage that I could pick from our analyst, on them. So getting to know players for me to make selection decisions is now a bit tricky for the coach. I have to rely on other people’s opinions but one thing that these cricketers are used to is getting into new dressing rooms, meeting new players, jelling very quickly. That’s one of the by-products of playing franchise cricket around the world.

Would you have loved playing the T20 given that you have always been a traditionalist?

I would have absolutely loved to play in these franchises. I did play a bit of T20 cricket for Essex just before I retired when T20 cricket was introduced in England. So, I have played it. But at the time I was playing we did not take it pretty seriously. It did not have much status. The transformation that we have seen over the last 14-15 years is amazing. I have loved playing it because it demands innovation and I liked challenging myself in that regard. It looks fun. It is up and running quickly and it is over pretty quickly. I have experienced T20 cricket as a coach towards the end of last year in Abu Dhabi and I thought that was a brilliant form of the game. I think all these tournaments are extremely exciting to be involved in.

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