Throughout his career, people talked about Andrew Flintoff being the new Botham. He wasn’t. He was the new Darren Gough. He was England supporters’ representative on the field of play. For the rest of this article, we will be referring to him as Andy Flintoff because that was what he was called when he became that figure.
ALWAYS look like you’re trying
Some players are great at cricket but the crowds don’t particularly take to them. Genuine crowd favourites are a rarity. Botham was one, Gough was one and Flintoff was one. It takes certain qualities to get the crowd onside and it’s not simply about runs and wickets. Mostly it’s about your attitude and your approach to the game. Andy Flintoff did not become a crowd favourite during the 2005 Ashes – that is a common misconception. He was already a favourite and he used that to his advantage.
How to bat – try and hit sixes
Violent batting is the way to people’s hearts – earthy, straightforward hitting that softens the ball through robust contact with both bat and boundary boards. Sixes help, but just putting your back into it is the main thing.
Darren Gough’s shot was the wild edge to third man for four. The runs weren’t the point; the helicopter rotor blades style follow-through that often knocked him over was the point. Flintoff was better than that. His shot was the lofted straight drive that he tried to land in his dad’s hands somewhere up in the stands.
For a long time, if there was a big match on and someone said ‘Flintoff’ to you with an urgent and excited look on their face, you would instantly know that this meant England’s fourth wicket had fallen and that this wasn’t necessarily a bad thing.
Bowling – put in the effort
You’re in a better position to win the crowd’s affections if you’re a fast bowler. It means you can show effort and flog yourself into the ground.
Andrew Flintoff became a top bowler, but we loved him because he bowled like a man who thought he could propel the ball through the batsman and into the stumps if only he tried a bit harder.
We don’t want to write too much about the negatives, but they need to be acknowledged. They weren’t all his fault anyway.
The injuries were bad. We once said that he wasn’t built for fast bowling any more than an otter is built for refrigerating foodstuffs. It was frustrating for fans, so it must have been woeful for him. We still can’t believe they didn’t make him a bionic knee. If Flintoff doesn’t get one, who does?
We didn’t really care about the drinking, but we cared that he was known for drinking. It turned him into a cartoon figure; a caricature – and we thought he was better than that.
Late in his career, there were the celebrations. He won us over with genuine, heartfelt elation and when he became more calculated it felt a little like treachery to those of us who’d monitored Lancashire scorecards in those early days.
Cricket matches with corners
Far better to remember him for his finest quality. He gave England supporters the sense that something could happen at any moment. He made us think that the match could suddenly change direction.
Remember the over Flintoff bowled to Kallis?
That’s the kind of thing we’re on about. Supreme entertainment that just suddenly came from nowhere. Matches didn’t progress when Andy Flintoff was involved, they changed.
Lazy-minded people ascribed this ability to some nebulous concept that they called ‘the X-factor’ as if it were magic, but it was nothing of the sort. It was a combination of psychology, kidology, physical presence and reputation as well as one other quality that you can’t coach or buy.
Flintoff’s effect on the crowd
Because of the way he batted and bowled in those early days, Flintoff built a lasting rapport with England fans. If he showed any sign that he was going to do something remotely special on a cricket field, the crowd got behind him. When the crowd got behind him, the adrenaline kicked in. When Flintoff’s adrenaline kicked in, the crowd went mental. From there, very, very special things could happen.
Day three of the 2005 Edgbaston Test was Flintoff’s high water mark and if you want to study a player’s effect on a crowd as well as a crowd’s effect on a player, this is where you should start. Frankly, it’s also where you should finish.
The man came into bat with England 31-4. When the ninth wicket fell, he ignited a whole stadium full of people and used the blaze for power. Australia positioned most of their fielders on the boundary and still he went for sixes.
That evening he went one better.
It was 47-0 when Flintoff came on to bowl and all was flat. To put this over in perspective, he was on a hat trick with his opening delivery and that was possibly the least exciting ball. How many players can bowl overs where hat trick balls are repeatedly overshadowed?
Andy Flintoff took two wickets for one run (a no-ball) in that over, but what we remember – and what we’ll always remember – is the effect that he had on the crowd.