World XI coach Andy Flower is looking forward to being involved in a series that enables Pakistani fans to “see their heroes” after years of being “starved” of international cricket, he told AFP on Friday.
The former Zimbabwe batsman and ex-England coach was named Thursday as the man who will oversee a World XI that will play three Twenty20 internationals in Lahore next month in a bid to revive international cricket in Pakistan, where the sport has a fanatical following.
Pakistan, a short series against Zimbabwe two years ago apart, has effectively been a ‘no-go’ area for top-flight international cricket since an attack by armed militants on Sri Lanka’s team bus in Lahore in 2009. Since then Pakistan, who won this year’s International Cricket Council Champions Trophy one-day tournament in England, have played most of their ‘home’ games in the United Arab Emirates. Now the hope is that the World XI fixtures will act as the forerunner to the resumption of full international cricket in Pakistan.
“This is important both for Pakistan cricket and for Pakistan as a country as a whole,” Flower told AFP in a telephone interview. “Pakistan is a major cricket nation and it’s very important for cricket there that the fans can see their heroes at home. It’s something they’ve been starved off in recent years.”
Flower, now the England and Wales Cricket Board’s director of coaching, added he was looking forward to overseeing a World XI squad imbued with a “special spirit.”
“Of course they are professionals who will be getting paid,” he said, “But beyond the narrow confines of playing, I sense they are keen to do something for Pakistan cricket. I think there will be a special spirit in the team.” He added that he had complete “trust” in safety arrangements overseen in part by ECB security expert Reg Dickason.
South Africa captain Faf du Plessis will lead a side that also includes Australia’s George Bailey and South Africa’s Hashim Amla as well as former England all-rounder Paul Collingwood.
Flower was the coach and Collingwood the captain when England won their lone global limited-overs title—the 2010 World Twenty20 in the Caribbean. Flower is eager to experience the “passion” Pakistan has for cricket again.
“In the early days with Zimbabwe, many of our matches were against the sub-continental teams so we got to know their players well,” he said. “In 1995, my brother Grant—who has since coached Pakistan—and I shared a record partnership by brothers in a Test [of 269] against Pakistan. He scored a double century and I got a hundred. That was probably the proudest moment of my playing career,” added the 49-year-old former left-handed batsman.
Flower was also England’s coach when Pakistan’s Mohammad Amir, along with pace partner Mohammad Asif and then captain Salman Butt, was banned for deliberately bowling no-balls in a ‘spot-fixing scam’ in the 2010 Lord’s Test.
All three players were later jailed by an English court.
But since his return to international cricket in January 2016, Amir has starred for Pakistan in their Champions Trophy triumph and since then played a key role in taking Essex, Flower’s old club, to the top of English cricket’s County Championship First Division table. “That was a very tumultuous time for Pakistan cricket,” said Flower, as he recalled the events of 2010. “While not condoning in any way what happened, he [Amir] was a young man who made a bad decision. I believe in second chances and it looks like he’s taking his with both hands.”