Coached in Zimbabwe, played elsewhere
Harare – They say cricket is coached in Zimbabwe and played elsewhere. That’s probably true if one looks at the 2013 ICC Champions Trophy where the two teams which battled in the pulsating final, England and India, are under the tutelage of Zimbabwean coaches.
Zimbabwe didn’t take part in the Champions Trophy but the impact that the Southern African country continues to make on the international game was all too evident at Edgbaston in Birmingham on Sunday.
Has any African country produced two coaches to take charge of two heavyweight nations, in a final of a major sporting event, before?
Certainly not in cricket and the story even gets interesting when one considers that Zimbabwe are regarded as lightweights when it comes to the game.
Andy Flower was sitting in the England corner and Duncan Fletcher was in the Indian corner as the battle for the ICC Champions Trophy exploded at Edgbaston on Sunday.
Both are former captains of the Zimbabwe national cricket team and share another common bond as having coached England.
Fletcher, who captained Zimbabwe at its first appearance at the 1983 World Cup, ironically in England, became the first foreigner to be handed the job to coach the English cricket team in 1999.
He held that position for eight years and when he moved to India, the English still valued the impact that he had done and decided to employ another Zimbabwean coach, Andy Flower.
On Sunday, Fletcher and his men stood between England and their first world title in a 50-over cricket tournament.
The Indians triumphed, in a final that ebbed and flowed before taking a dramatic and defining twist in the final over, in a nervy five-run victory that shattered the hosts and proved that the men from the sub-continent have become masters of the short game.
Two years ago, India were also crowned world champions in the 50-over ODI tournament, after they beat Sri Lanka in the final, with South Africa’s Gary Kirsten in charge of the team’s coaching staff.
That the success story was written on home soil, in conditions that suited their game, did not give the Indians the global acknowledgement that their spirited efforts, under relentless pressure, probably deserved.
But winning another tournament away from home, beating the hosts in their own conditions, while defending a small total of just 129, as Fletcher and his men did on Sunday, was a huge triumph.
Indian cricket has suffered in recent months and the explosion of the betting scandals, which tainted the Indian Premier League, had a significant dent on a game that is the soul of millions of Indians.
On Sunday, there Fletcher and his men put a smile to the game, with their remarkable success story and the Zimbabwean coach has been singled out by Indian captain, MS Donhi, as a man who has made a huge difference.
“Duncan is someone who knows the basics of cricket really well,” Dhoni told Walesonline last week.
“The small, very little things that he can spot right at the start are something that’s very crucial for all the youngsters, and it’s a key for us, also.
“Also there is the fact now he’s under less pressure. When he came in we were going through a phase where some of the senior cricketers left us when we were at the top of what we could have done in cricket at that point of time.
“So, he is always someone who would have felt the pressure and to maintain that kind of performance is very difficult.
“But I think he’s loving the fact now that the team has started to do well and also there are lots of youngsters on the side who he needs to guide.
“So, I think overall he’s done really well with us, and I am just very happy for him that we are going through a phase where we are doing well for him.”
Fletcher was a big hit during his time as England coach and led the revival, which has been alive up to this day, with Test series victories away in Sri Lanka, Pakistan, West Indies and South Africa.
He became the first England coach to win an Ashes series in 18 years.
Interestingly, there were three Zimbabwean coaches in the dressing rooms of the two teams that were battling for honours in the ICC Champions Trophy on Sunday.
The Indian fielding coach, Trevor Penney, is also Zimbabwean and his knowledge of the English conditions, where he played for 17 years at county side Warwickshire, must have come in handy for the Indians assignment.
Penney was born in Harare and played for Mashonaland A, Mashonaland, Boland and Warwickshire as a right hand batsman and right arm medium leg break bowler.
He quit first-class cricket in 2005 and went to Sri Lanka to work as an assistant coach to Tom Moody, a former teammate at Warwickshire.
Former England captain, Nasser Hussain, who is now one of the most authoritative cricket voices in the world, hailed the Indians and said Fletcher was making a huge impact in that country.
“The way the Indians have moved on a generation in this tournament has been a joy to watch,” Hussain wrote in the Daily Mail of England.
“You can see it from the energy they have shown in the field, which has not always been the case.
“Duncan Fletcher and MS Dhoni must be delighted with what they have seen. In the past, Indian teams have been too obsessed with stats.
“But you can see in someone like Ravindra Jadeja the kind of three-in-one cricketer that Fletcher always wanted in the Indian team. His 33 from 25 balls helped turn their innings round.
“Instead, from a position where England needed just 20 runs from their last 16 balls with Eoin Morgan and Ravi Bopara going great guns, they somehow handed India this ‘mini World Cup’ to go with the real thing.”
For Andy Flower, his moment to make history with England was blown away by the Indians when success had appeared all but secured going into the final overs.
He has to wait but there is the bigger issue of the Ashes that is on the horizon and, judging the way the Zimbabwean coaches have impacted this showdown between England and Australia, it’s very likely there will be success for Flower and his English team.