In honour of a stalwart

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FLOWER is a name popularised in world sport by Andy and Grant Flower, Zimbabwe’s cricket playing brothers who formed one of the game’s best-known sibling partnerships.

Enock Muchinjo

But behind the brothers was a supportive father, Bill Flower — a coach, philanthropist and life mentor — known for giving back to causes across the country.

One of Bill Flower’s protégés was Zimbabwe’s first black captain and Test cricket’s youngest, Tatenda Taibu. So last week — in honour of one of his earliest mentors — UK-based Taibu flew home to launch the Bill Flower Cricket Academy in Harare.

Besides raising two world-class cricketers, one a former world number one Test batsman, the older Flower also had great passion for the community, and black cricket development.

Taibu will house the Bill Flower Academy at Harare’s Alexandra Sports Club, where Flower Snr used to spend countless hours of volunteer coaching during his time in Zimbabwe.

Flower now lives in England, where his oldest son, Andy, coached the national team between 2009 and 2014.

“I have several people that I have always wanted to do something major for,” Taibu, who was in Zimbabwe en route to play first-class cricket in Sri Lanka, told IndependentSport.

“Bill Flower is definitely one of them. There was a time I called him, I think it was around 2008, 2009. And I said to him, ‘Bill, you have held me in my career along with several other people. So I’ve always wanted to do something big for you. So could you please allow me to ask you to choose a holiday destination of your choice. Tell me the time you want to travel and I will look after all the expenses for that travel’. And he said to me, ‘Tatenda, you are a young man, you’ve just had a son’. I think TJ (Taibu’s first son) was just three years or four years, if I’m not mistaken. So he said, ‘I want you to do me a favour, take that money and put it in a savings account and use it for your kids’ good education’. So I did that. My kids are going to a very good private school in the UK. And part of that money I used it for the boys to have a good education. For him to do that, it means the world to me.”
Being called-up to Zimbabwe’s national team as a 17-year-old schoolboy, Taibu fell under the tutelage of Andy Flower, and he attributes those cordial relations to the legendary wicketkeeper-batsman’s father.

“That’s why I’ve started this academy in Bill’s name. Because I know he is one of the people I remember who wanted cricket to grow in the country and I believe that his name should always be remembered in Zimbabwe. And I believe that this academy will be able to provide that. He did a lot, building a facility in Mabvuku for kids to practise, stuff like that. He also convinced Andy Flower to join Takashinga (then known as Old Wistonians) when we were struggling to get promotion. And Andy ended up guiding us and guiding me along the way to be the player that I ended up being. So that’s where the inspiration comes from.”

Taibu also spoke of his early experiences with the well-respected development stalwart. “I first met Bill a long time ago when I was still in primary school at Chipembere when he used to conduct what was called the Squad of Excellence and I was one of the players picked. We used to have sessions on Friday afternoons. So it was good players from different schools,” Taibu said.

“So Bill Flower knew that we couldn’t afford to go for the Squad of Excellence so he used to come pick us up in Highfield, when there was no vehicle arranged for us. Obviously when there was a vehicle arranged, it was Stephen Mangongo who used to do it. I remember the one time there was a strike for the workers’ union and cars couldn’t move on the streets. He came all the way from his house to pick us up in Highfield and took us to the game. On the way back, we were stopped by people that had stones and sticks on the road. And they were going to smash the car. We somehow managed to manoeuvre our way, but his car got stoned. And to think that he had to drop us and then go back again, I remember my mum kept calling to find if he had arrived safely.
Thankfully, he was safe. To go through all that, for me to have a chance in cricket, I mean, what can I actually do to repay that? My plan is to do something major for each one of them, God permitting. They are not many.”

The 35-year-old Taibu — who played 28 Tests, 150 ODIs and 17 Twenty20s for Zimbabwe — said it was by chance that he became a wicketkeeper, and it was through the older Flower.

“He played a big part in me becoming a wicketkeeper,” he said. “How that came about is that there was a guy called Goosen, I don’t remember his first name, but he went to Lomagundi College. He was the wicketkeeper-batsman, very good player. He didn’t turn up for one of those Squad of Excellence matches. So Bill asked if anyone wanted to volunteer to keep, and I raised my hand. And Andy came to drop off something to his dad and when he came into the ground it was like ‘wow, national team player’. And Bill asked him what he thought of me being a keeper, and Andy said I was a natural. And he said ‘if you think he is a natural, then arrange keeping gloves and keeping pads for him’. And I got old keeping gloves and keeping pads that were used by Andy. And who in their right mind would not go for keeping after that? That’s how I started keeping. I still speak to Bill probably once a month in England and we always catch up on things. He is a Christian too, which helps our conversations, and we have so many things in common.”

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