Andy Flower: Lessons from cricket become lessons for life
Article by Footdown consultant Will Jefferson.
The player I most admired from my cricket career, of all those I played with or against over 12 years in the game, was Andy Flower.
We were teammates at Essex County Cricket Club for 5 years, following his departure from the international cricket scene. Andy retired after the 2003 World Cup where, infamously, he and Henry Olonga wore black armbands to highlight the ‘Death of Democracy’ in their home country of Zimbabwe.
The many experiences we shared at Essex taught me a lot about the qualities of a great leader. It was a pleasure to spend time with, practice, train and play alongside one of the most respected figures in the game; our time in the same team included many memorable batting partnerships, none more so than sharing an opening stand of 249 in a quarter-final match against Nottinghamshire at Trent Bridge in 2004.
Meeting in the middle of the wicket in between overs, Andy used to punch me on the thigh pad before we retreated back to our ends. Even though I made nothing of it at the time, the punches were hard enough to feel through my padding. Was the jab a call to arms, a reminder of the challenges in the match ahead, a wake up call? Certainly all signs pointed towards a true fighter – a player who thrived in the heat battle.
As a young man just out of university I lapped up every single minute of my time standing shoulder to shoulder (or not quite in my case!) with one of the greats. To me, Andy, or ‘Petals’ as he was known, epitomised all the traits that are associated with being part of a High Performing Team.
It was one of my first experiences of holding conversations, frank in nature, where honest observations and feedback would have enduring consequences. Sitting down and talking through aspects of my game became increasingly important in these early stages of my playing career. Andy realised pretty early on in my time at Essex that I would thrive on a similar approach to his that really got to grips with the detail in a strategy.
To this day I still model some of my behaviours on what I observed of Andy over a decade ago.
My top ten:
Stick to a task until you, and only you, know you are absolutely ready and have got it right before you move on. (working on an element of your technique in the nets, your attitude to your catching in training. The time you put in to further your career that no one else sees )
Gain a person’s respect, gain their trust. Whether a text message after one of my career highs, with the carefully chosen words, “Great handling of pressure.” (I hit a six in the super-over to take Leicestershire into the final on T20 Final’s day in 2011) or a call to my mobile to sympathise on the day of my retirement through a serious injury, these smallest of actions I will take forward with me as a reminder of always acting with the highest moral integrity.
To be relentless in your commitment to mastering the basics and to have the stamina and motivation to keep on self-improving. Even at the ripe old age of 36, Andy was regularly the last to leave the nets on most training days. I just hope other Essex players of my generation picked up on that work ethic – and the choices that went into helping to perform at consistently high levels out in the middle.
To have an open mind-set to innovate in order to better ourselves. We both trialled using a squash ball inside our bottom hand glove to help soften our grip in order to improve our timing and ‘feel’ in practice. I actually scored a first class hundred with the squash ball neatly tucked inside my bottom hand glove. Adam Gilchrist scored a hundred (149 off 104 balls) in the 2007 World Cup final with a squash ball in his glove, the highest score and quickest century in a World Cup Final.
To play to your strengths over and over again. Andy was considered by many as the best reverse sweeper of a cricket ball. Ever. The shot was as sound, consistent and repetitive as other player’s forward defensives, or cover drives. Did he get out to it? Yes. Had he taken years and years to develop it? Absolutely. A master of his art who delighted onlookers as much as he infuriated spin bowlers!
Know that you will create an internal state to be at your best when you find that unique balance of ‘relaxed intensity’ to allow yourself as a top order batsman to occupy the crease for long periods of time. (Andy spoke of a flow-like state of self-hypnotic proportions that resulted in his run making success and made him the Number 1 international batsman in the world in September 2001.
Your self-awareness determines your future success. To recognise in your thinking when you know that you have let yourself down after a soft dismissal and accept the blame (…Andy spat on his kit sometimes to show his distaste for the way in which his wicket had been taken)
Setting yourself the highest possible standards. Then striving – with every sinew in your body, and neural connection in your brain, to benchmark yourself along the way to the lofty goals you keep setting.
Use humour to lighten the toughest of situations. Andy and I were walking out to face Shoiab Ahktar – the fastest bowler in the world – in front of a packed crowd at Chelmsford. Andy turned to me before we were to take up our positions. “You take the first ball today.” I could only smile (nervously) as Andy had taken the first ball on every other occasion. I proceeded to face the fastest spell of my career from Shoiab, as every ball for the next twenty minutes was aimed straight at my adam’s apple. Cheers Andy!
Celebrate success with your teammates and colleagues by letting your hair down when appropriate (genuinely enjoy the success of others after a team performance worthy of a drink or three!)
Thanks for the memories, Andy!