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A nation holds its breath for Flintoff

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Oliver Brett | 06:14 UK time, Saturday, 4 July 2009

Nobody can appreciate the massive emotional gulf between success in an Ashes series to failure in another quite as well as Andrew Flintoff.
Man of the series and national hero when the Ashes finally came home in 2005, he was captain of a ship that sank to a 5-0 defeat barely a year later.

Pictures of Freddie the happy match-winner had been splashed liberally across the tabloids during that glorious summer; but in 2006-7 the look of pure anguish he wore as his team spiralled to a horrible defeat in Adelaide provided one of the most haunting images of the series.

That he starts this current campaign somewhere approaching full fitness is a massive stroke of luck given the amount of cricket Flintoff has lost to injury.

He has had four operations on his left ankle inside three years - and every time you see him land on it in that strange pigeon-toed manner as he hurls down another fast yorker you can understand why.

Left - Flintoff after the 2005 series win; RIght - Flintoff after Adelaide 2006

Even once that problem was finally fixed in October 2007 - though one says those words touching every bit of wood in the vicinity - he strained his left side in May 2008, missing a big chunk of last summer, and was further indisposed for much of the Caribbean tour at the start of the year with a hip problem.

Then he broke down with ligament trouble in his right knee at the Indian Premier League in April - though there was an obvious silver lining. By missing the first tranche of England's international summer he gave himself every chance to get himself fit by the time Australia came along.

The returns have been promising since his return with Lancashire on 11 June. He picked up 4-47 in an innings against Durham and in the next Championship game, against Hampshire, hit 54 batting at three. A spectacular 93 off 41 balls at Derby followed in a Twenty20 match.

All looked well until he missed the bus on the morning of a bonding trip to Ypres after a team dinner the night before.

That untimely incident, which raised questions as to whether he had been drinking, caused some amusement among Australian writers, who have witnessed at close-quarters the gradual demise of Andrew Symonds - a thirstier individual than Flintoff with even less enthusiasm for discipline.

We have to hope Andrew Strauss was not just glossing over Ypres-gate when he said of Flintoff: "He generally recognises when the time is to drink and when not to drink. As he's got older he's got more aware of that."

Leaving alcohol and time-keeping to one side, will we again see match-winning performances from Flintoff in this series?

We all want to know exactly how fit Flintoff is for this campaign. Twenty-five days of high intensity cricket is an awful lot for any 31-year-old fast bowler to cram into barely seven weeks - let alone one who is required to bat in the top six and who has faced the surgeon's knife so frequently.

I thought I was onto a good thing when Dave "Rooster" Roberts, the physio who has brought him through so many arduous rehabilitation programmes, agreed to an interview.

But I was asked to clear it with the England and Wales Cricket Board, and a spokesman sternly responded: "Our policy is not to make ECB medical staff available for interview on medical and injury matters." (Roberts is not on ECB staff, but never mind).

So I called Alec Stewart, who will be summarising for Radio 5 Live throughout the series, and asked him what we should expect from Freddie this Ashes.

Stewart said: "He has never been a prolific wicket-taker or run-scorer in Test matches. [For the record, Flintoff has five centuries and two five-wicket hauls in 75 Tests]. But what he has achieved is big moments that help turn games.

"The English public is hoping and praying that he stays fit because he brings so much to the team. Opposition teams see him as such a threat and the Australians do fear him, even though he hasn't quite reached the heights of 2005 since.

"In terms of his fitness, very rarely have I played with a bowler who starts a game 100% fit. What you want is people who can get through games. Freddie is exceptionally fit, but you do still think about what that ankle's going through."

Flintoff himself says he is not going to get worked up: "The fact that it's the Ashes and that people are expecting me to do things again is not something I take a lot of notice of. I go out there and give it my best shot and hopefully at The Oval, at the end of the fifth Test, we're stood on the top of the podium again."

Frankly, though he remains quite brilliant with the ball in one-day cricket, Flintoff's returns in the Test arena appear to be dipping - as Stewart alludes to.

He has played 22 Tests for England since they last won the Ashes, in which time his significant moments are contained in two four-wicket hauls in the Multan Test England should have won, the two half-centuries in Mumbai when they did, and the wonderful bowling spell against South Africa last summer at Edgbaston (when England lost).

"I keep reading that England do better without me," he said recently. Time to put that right, Fred. We'd all love it if you did.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    There's a difference between the traditional beer in the dressing room with the opposition at the end of a day's play and getting hammered. I bet Andy Murray's preparations for Wimbledon didn't include going out on the razz. If your performances on the field are good, then it's not a problem....but with England and Flintoff hardly having set the world alight in the last four years, now's not the time.
    As regards the Ashes, for all his inconsistency in the past, England would be mad not to pick Harmison at the moment, particularly with him having shook the Aussies up a bit in their warm-up match. Flintoff, Harmison, Anderson, Broad and Swann would be my first choice attack.

  • Comment number 2.

    I think freddie just being in the squad is a massive lift for England! His pure statue and pride for his country is enough to drive a team forward at times. The aussies wont want to face him as they know a fully fit and firing flintoff is something of a danger.

    Altho Freddie doesnt have the greatest stats at test level he is the player that shines at that crucial moment by either hitting a few big 6's to push the game along or by producing a magical over and taking wickets!

    I think any England team with a fit Flintoff is a better team than without a flintoff!

  • Comment number 3.

    I have to confess before typing the rest of this opinion that as far as I'm concerned Flintoff is the most appalling off field example for any aspiring sportsman. His disgraceful behaviour on the day of the (ridiculous) Ashes beanfeast at Trafalgar Square was a new low for English cricket and his subsequent behaviour proves that he has little respect for himself or his sport.
    In terms of his on field impact.... I had bought into this destabilising influence idea but on further consideration I believe that it is just an excuse. When he's playing well he galvanises the team but when he's playing badly why does no-one else step up to the plate?
    Yes, he's a dominant personality but so was Warne. He didn't destabilise the Australian side. Why? He was playing with other greats who believed in themselves and would have been ashamed to use someone else's talents as an excuse for their own lack of performance. I'm not saying that the other English players are as talented as that once in a generation team, but you only have to look at Swann or Pietersen to see that a true team player backs themselves as an individual.
    There is probably a reluctance to accept Flintoff's apparently fireproof status but when all is said and done that is not the team's problem, it is down to the management. As they proved with their rather childish ganging up on KP this side has a long way to go before becoming a mature group of individuals.
    Flintoff is coming to the end of his career. Only when the dust has settled will we really be able to judge his influence for good or ill, but my opinion for what its worth is that while he acts like Botham off the pitch he's not a patch on him in the middle.

  • Comment number 4.

    The attention on Flintoff is not unexpected but everyone, from fan to pundit to critic to individual England team member, needs to remember it will be a team performance that England need. Australia in 2005 didn't play well as a team and Warne's incredible efforts alone were not enough to claim overall victory. Likewise, Flintoff could exceed his 2005 performances but they will stand for nothing if we do not play well collectively. James Anderson has said in the past how a lack of Flintoff in the side meant that other players stood up to be counted in the West Indies. They need to keep that mentality even with him in the side.

    I hope that Flintoff will be used as a strike bowler. Broad has shown enough control and a greater stamina over the last year, which means he could take on the role of being the containing man. Anderson and Flintoff can act as the strike bowlers with the third seamer role proving to be interesting in the light of Harmison bowling well in Worcester.

    Oliver, do you really think Flintoff will bat in the top 6? I can't see him batting ahead of Prior. On sheer weight of runs alone, Prior is firm at 6. Another good aspect of Flintoff batting lower is that he does seem to have the ability to galvanise the tail who appear to enjoy batting with him. I for one like the idea of Flintoff and Broad at 7 and 8 as I think they'd rub off on each other well. Flintoff can have confidence in Broad keeping up his end and Flintoff will help Broad to play the shots he is capable of playing.

  • Comment number 5.

    HAVE WE NOT RAISED OUR EXPECTION TOO HIGH WITH FLINTOFF. FOR THE LAST MANY TESTS HE HAS NOT PERFORMED AS ALL OF US HAVE BEEN EXPECTING. MOST OF THE TIME HE IS INJURED, BUT WHEN IPL IS TO PLAY, HE IS FINE. WE SHOULD NOW TAKE OUR SIGHT OFF FROM HIM AND ENCOURAGE OTHERS WHO WOULD PERFORM BETTER THEN HIM.

  • Comment number 6.

    ALECAN....get rid, no good for the team, no good for himself....great memories.....let's move on!!

  • Comment number 7.

    "He has never been a prolific wicket-taker or run-scorer in Test matches."
    ............................................................................
    The focal point for all this attention does have a good pair of hands though.

    "Andrew Symonds - a thirstier individual than Flintoff"
    ............................................................................
    Bold statement. Are you certain of that Brett?

  • Comment number 8.

    "I keep reading that England do better without me." - this is not something made up by journalists, Freddie, this is fact. Check the stats since 05.

    Flintoff has only been picked on the back of his 05 exploits, but it is without question that he is a special talent that England need to be firing if they are going to have any chance of regaining the Ashes.

    Pleased to see Prior bat ahead of him for the Warwickshire warm-up.

    http://sportingchameleon.wordpress.com/

  • Comment number 9.

    Best bowler we have and a potential match winner. Any talk of him not playing is rubbish. That said, lets not get too carried away with him as a batter. He is a bowler and anything with the bat is a bonus!

    Colly dosn't form part of the team for me - thanks for everything old love, but time to move on.

    My team for the first test:

    Strauss
    Cook
    Bopara
    Pietersen
    Bell (last chance saloon!)
    Prior
    Flintoff
    Broad
    Swann
    Onions/Rachid (depending on pitch - Rachid to bat ahead of Flintoff if played)
    Anderson

  • Comment number 10.

    To Posts No 5 & 6, Old Flintorff is not a bad number 7 now is he? he also has experience of beating Australia. Make no mistake this Aussie side is the WEAKEST to tour here for over 20 years, Is there really anyone who can play better than him at 7?

    Rememebr Botham was the same age and written off when he toured Australia in 86/87 and we all know what happened then. Flintoff is a better player now than IT was then.

    In the right position he could be a golden asset. Go England! This Aussie side is there for the taking.

    Go England!!

  • Comment number 11.

    England went to Ieper, Ypres is just the Walloon way of saying it - fed up with this!

    The difference between Freddie and Botham is that Beefy did it where it counted - on the field. Flintoff too often flatters to deceive and is a holding bowler who scores the odd 50. Botham had 14 test hundreds and far more 5w hauls than Freddie.

  • Comment number 12.

    I`m not a Flintoff fan, but I think he could be given a chance at Cardiff. Given both that Freddy is not just another run-of-the-mill type bowler, and that he has been out of cricket on a regular basis for a lot of the recent time past, most of the current squad of Aussie batsmen won`t have faced him, so he has the element of surprise on his side. So I say give him a chance in the first test. If he passes muster, great. If he breaks down and/or fails, then that`s it. England career over, no more chances. It`s up to Freddy. Has he got what it takes?

  • Comment number 13.

    The very fact that Flintoff, at this vital stage of the series and his career, cannot even make the team bus in time is telling.

    I feel very sorry for his wife and child(ren?).

    I say give him his chance at a last hurrah, but he should know before he starts that he can be dropped at any time.

    It is a very short road from national hero to national disgrace.

  • Comment number 14.

    It seems there is no greater crime for English national heros than failing to repeat former glories. Freddie, Becks, Owen, even Jonny Wilkinson, all have committed the unpardonable crime of carrying on despite being past their best and plagued with injury. Kelly Holmes, on the other hand, achieved her greatest triumph at the very end of her career and is practically a saint.

    It is telling that the two managers most strongly linked with a move for Owen were both Scottish. What a damning indictment of English ingratitude and short-sightedness.

    As for Freddie's career stats, I take Disraeli's view on these things. Is it really surprising that a man whose England career started so slowly, and who was struck down in his prime by debilitating injury, should have mediocre career stats? It's a bit like complaining that the oldest man in the world spent a large portion of his life being not particularly old at all!

    Pick him on form, not on history, but please don't attempt to re-write that history with Freddie in the villain's role. Such efforts are demeaning to writer and subject alike.

  • Comment number 15.

    AndyP

    It would take a lot to dislidge Prior from six, so I am assuming that it will be the keeper in that spot, with Fred at seven. Incidentally, many will wonder when Stuart Broad will get the chance to bat at seven as he will do one day.

    E-Type

    Life would be dull without bold statements. Symonds has said: "I have been diagnosed as a binge drinker. I go out and drink hard all in one hit. Too fast, too much." There is no evidence that Flintoff is in that category.

  • Comment number 16.


    There is no evidence that Flintoff is in that category.
    ...............................................................................
    I think missing the bus last week on such an important occasion and weeing in the Prime Minister's back garden in 2005 is evidence that he drinks too much in too short a space of time.
    Those aren't the actions of a man who is in control of his drinking.
    Remember when Graham Taylor queried Gascoigne's "refuelling habits" only to be met by opprobrium from all sides. Well Gazza is now a shambolic wreck of a man. I see a similar pattern emerging.......

  • Comment number 17.

    Fred will make it through the summer. I can't justify this objectively, I just feel it in my bones. But that's a side issue. The really important question is the ability of the bowling unit to take 20 aussie wickets on a regular basis. if they can, we're up and running - and the batters should score enough to keep us in the series. If they can't, even a 100% fit Fred alone won't make any difference and we will not win. End of!

  • Comment number 18.

    The reason that Flintoff should be picked is very very very simple. He is one of those rare players who can change a game, regularly with one supreme bowling spell or a quick 30odd runs with the bat.

    He'll rarely destroy a team with a massive hundred or regular 5w hauls, but he will make the key break throughs, just when you need it. You throw him the ball and he lifts the crowd, he lifts the team and he hits the opposition hard.

    He is a talisman because of this, and anyone who knows cricket knows the saying '1 brings 2' and Freddie will bring you the 1. With the likes of Anderson, Broad and Swann, they can happily mop up the 2's he creates for you.

    And he may not have a great batting record, but you wouldn't want to bet that the Aussies won't see him as more dangerous than Broad and Prior down the order.

    Finally, he is a tremendous slip fielder, and if you are James Anderson, or Stuart Broad, having Prior, Fred, Straus & Colly in your close catching positions its a great confidence booster. Just remembering a couple of summers where England and slip catching were like oil and water, that confidence helps your bowlers.

    Finally, i have frequently in my life slept in for an unusal start time (ie earlier train, change of shift, early appointment etc etc) without having ANYTHING to drink, heavens above he might have had 2 glasses of wine and slept in, hardly a captial offense.

  • Comment number 19.

    Why does Andrew Flintoff walk straight into the England team?
    He should have played for the Lions to prove himself.
    I feel sorry for Steve Harmison, if he got the right leadership (like Michael Vaughan gave him) and encouragement he could be THE Aussie destroyer
    But it's good tgo see Monty back isn't it he'll knock 66 and take catches just like Anil Raschid - I DON'T THINK

  • Comment number 20.

    re:19

    "There, there Steve. We understand that

    o your home-sickness means you don't pull your weight when touring

    o when the shine goes off the new ball you produce nowt

    o you are a loving, "arms round shoulder" of team-mate Onions when he was picked for the 1st test against the Windies.

    Sorry, I would support a Harmison who

    o spat fire in his 1st bowling spell when Onions was picked for the 1st test against the Windies

    o bowled at an average of 90+ in the LIons match. Brett Lee did.

    o did not allow his effort to drop in the latter stages of the same match

  • Comment number 21.

    Flintoff's proven worth in the England pace attack is beyond reproach. If fully fit and motivated should walk straight in the starting line-up.

    His TEST batting another matter.
    Fine if it's a slow, flat track walking in with a decent score already on the board. The technique is not so clever when the ball is nipping around. I would bat Matt Prior at number six, and Flintoff no higher than seven.

  • Comment number 22.

    @CollisKing

    As Geoff Miller, at 10.20 am, was on record as saying that Prior would bat at 6, Flintoff at 7 - your post some 11 hours later means ?

  • Comment number 23.

    @ eccles45

    I've Been at Wimbledon all day, wasn't privy to Mr Miller's press conference.

    The brutal men's final was rather like watching a rather exciting 5-day test match on a slow, dead, flat wicket. Roddick batting first pilling up 680-6 declared. Mr Federer fails to avoid the follow-on, but bats big in the second innings. Roddick is left to score 180 on the last day starts comfortably. As the pressure mounts a middle order collapse sees him 160-8 at tea. The last wicket pair get within 4 runs of a famous victory before Federer himself comes on to take the final wicket ... clean bowled.

    Is Miller going to play 2 spinners at Cardiff ?

  • Comment number 24.

    the title of the article is a bit misleading - I don't really see a nation holding its breath. I would think most of the country couldn't tell you what day the series even starts...

  • Comment number 25.

    A few things about Flintoff, firstly he has never really been fully fit since 2005, so its no wonder his figures have fallen away a bit.

    Secondly, can we just leave the alcohol thing alone totally. He was fined for being late, not for being drunk. Why do we have to fixate on alcohol as a possible excuse? Strauss himself said punctuality has been a problem within the squad for a while.

    Thirdly, when he has been fully fit, he has been the kind of bowler others in the attack can work around. He can bowl long spells, keeping one end quiet. He may not always get bags of wickets, but he has allowed others to do so. He is not a conventional strike bowler, in the Harmison style. Peraonally I think his role in the attack is crucial. Someone who can tear in and bowl 8+ over spells, not concede many runs, and allow wicket takers to work away at the other end is a rare commodity. In a fit Flintoff, England have one.

  • Comment number 26.

    E-type, the urinating in the PMs garden incident is an urban myth.

  • Comment number 27.

    I`d love to know why Trego isn`t in the mix. Does his face not fit or what?

  • Comment number 28.

    He is a talisman because of this, and anyone who knows cricket knows the saying '1 brings 2' and Freddie will bring you the 1. With the likes of Anderson, Broad and Swann, they can happily mop up the 2's he creates for you.[Unsuitable/Broken URL removed by Moderator]

  • Comment number 29.

    Trego. Averages 36 in First Class Cricket. Decent County Player... Test material? Doubtful...

  • Comment number 30.

    Trego has similar county batting averages to both Collingwood and Bell, and has better bowling averages than both of them. I think Peter Trego is worth consideration for a all-rounder place on the England squad, even if he doesn`t make the team. Flintoff has done little for England since 2005. If Flintoff fails at Cardiff, Trego could make up the shortfall. I personally have little faith in Mascarenas filling Flintoff`s boots.

  • Comment number 31.

    If Flintoff is injured I would expect England to either go for Bresnan or play 6 batsmen. Dimi isn't in line for a test chance, as much, as a Hampshire fan, I love the guy! Gone are the days when a guy is just plucked from county obscurity and thrown in at the deep end.

  • Comment number 32.

    Andrew Flintoff - The big man with the even bigger heart.

    Of all the English players who went to Oz last time Freddie was the only player who's commitment I would not question.

    As a bowler I feel that he has been misused by England and suffered as a result - he is a victim of the fact that asa well as being aggressive he's also economical and therefore has been used as a stock bowler and this has contributed to his run of injuries. He runs in hard and bowls fast and with a 'heavy ball' and for my money would make the side as a bowler alone.

    As a batsman he is explosive. No he will not go out to bat everytime and score you 50, he will get out for single figures and he will occasionaly make 100 BUT what is key about his batting is the mommentum that he gives the innings. Fielding sides are well aware that he has the ability to take the game away from them in a simalur way to Mark Boucher or Adam Gilcrist.

    Let's please celebrate this remarkably tenacious and big hearted cricketer who is one of the few English players respected around the world.

 

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