The Realm’s England XI – 6. Andy Flintoff

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We’re picking an England XI comprising the players we invested in the most.

It’s easy to overthink these things. Let’s not fall into that trap.

Andy Flintoff – and he was best back when he was Andy – was a cricketer we loved.

It seems important with hindsight that Flintoff was on the fringes for so long early in his career. He made his Test debut in 1998 but didn’t really do anything much until 2002. In that time he promised a lot.

This is the way it works best. You get a better return if you invest in someone not because of what they do, but because of what they might do. You need the very real possibility that you’ve pissed away a load of emotional energy for the payback to feel so powerful if and when it happens.

Oh how it happened.

For those first four years of Flintoff’s international career, we got glimpses. Getting picked raised his profile so that we paid more attention even when he wasn’t playing. County reports tended to say, “Flintoff made a hundred and there were loads of sixes.” Long before he was a halfway decent international cricketer, we all knew what kind of a player he was.

By the second Test of the 2001 India tour, Flintoff was opening the bowling. This was weird but handy. It made him feel useful even when he couldn’t get a run and that mentality probably helped him to his first Test hundred in the Nathan Astle Test a few months later.

In the 2003 home series against South Africa, he finally started batting the way we hoped he would. For a couple of years after that, the bandwagon increased in size and still struggled to accommodate everyone. Day three of the 2005 Ashes Test was probably the zenith.

There’s no need to further compact already well-trodden ground (here’s our tribute from when he retired if you want some of that) but there are two further points we want to make. Neither is especially important in the grand scheme of things, but they’re points we want to make anyway.

The first is about his catching. Ian Botham was an incredible slip fielder and Ben Stokes is a spectacular fielder in almost every regard – but has there ever been a more bucket-handed-seeming England slip fielder than Flintoff?

He dropped plenty – because cricketers drop way more than people think they do – but it always felt like he was going to take any chances that came his way. In our memory, he never even had to move his hands. The ball just headed straight for them.

The second point we want to make is that while some of the shine wore off as his playing career wore on (there was a bit too much posturing and playing up to the cameras), we’d actually say that Flintoff’s bounced back in our affections since retirement.

That’s pretty rare and it’s even more unlikely given some of the tacky TV cobblers he’s undertaken in recent years. But you know what? Whenever he talks about cricket or current cricketers or his own cricket career or even the world in general, he usually seems a fair-minded and self-aware individual. And that’s something.

21 comments

  1. “Whenever he talks about cricket or current cricketers or his own cricket career or even the world in general, he usually seems a fair-minded and self-aware individual. And that’s something.”

    On my phone, this bizarrely immediately segues into one of those Fake News adverts saying ‘Piers Morgan At War With Banks’…

    Usually these things are a bitcoin or binary trading scam with a mocked up news website but clicking through actually gives me a page I can buy a “4 Pack Powerful & Bright LED Bike Light Set -Come with Free Bike Silicon” which at least spares me Piers Morgan’s face. Though I think I’ll pass on that apparent command that I should Come with Free Bike Silicon.

  2. He is often compared with Botham, but is some ways their careers were mirror images.

    Botham started off as a legendary player, then got fat and lazy later in his career.

    Flintoff stated off fat and lazy then turned into a legend.

    In retirement, Botham annoys the arse off me, despite being Botham, whilst I can’t help liking Flintoff, despite him being Freddie.

    Redemption vs. Hubris.

    1. Two thoughts immediately came to mind upon reading this response.

      (1) But Can Either Of Them Hold A Candle To Ian Austin?

      (2) In an alternate reality, could your entire thinkpiece have been subtly rewritten, replacing every mention of Andy Flintoff by the lithe-except-for-sculpted-muscle form of a redeemed and hungry (for success, metaphorically speaking, as opposed to just, well, hungry) Samit Patel?

      1. On a related note, and thinking of another Flintoff-contemporary all-rounder, Ian Blackwell managed to lose 10 kg in the winter of 2008/9 which is a serious and genuinely commendable effort. He’d been consulting with the England set-up’s fitness team about what they required. In a further effort to catch the selectorial eye (and also because he didn’t get on so well with Justin Langer) he also used that off-season to switch allegiance to then-reigning champions Durham, for whom he scored a ton in the first match of the new season. Really can’t fault the effort there (I mean ten kilos worth of it, if you can get Bert to calculate the whole E=mc² thing, that must be equivalent to a colossal amount of energy, probably enough to destroy a small moon) yet 2006 remained his final hurrah for England. If he appears in an ODI again, it will be as an umpire….

      2. I’m not sure that the cases are quite the same Bail Out. Austin and Samit forged their own legends whilst, or even because of their rotundity , not in spite of it. They are more in the Colin Milburn bracket.

      3. Yes, my slightly oblique point was that Austin shows how the legend of Flintoff could have been forged in an entirely different path… and on the flip side, Flintoff’s success at fittening up, fitting back in to the England set-up and flattening the antipodeans (Up Over if not so much Down Under) suggests a path Samit Patel could have trod lightly but didn’t. Though Patel did at least make the occasional comeback, and the fruitlessness of the indisputably talented Blackwell’s efforts to trim down shows how few guarantees come attached in elite sport. Overall, Flintoff’s progression from exciting young county-all-rounder-of-promise to still-exciting England phenomenon looks far more natural, even inevitable, in retrospect, once you know how it all unfolded, than if you think back to the many question marks at the start of his career. To whatever extent he was able to direct the arc of his own destiny, that’s a credit to the man.

      4. I agree with all you say, Bail-out. I am also reminded of history seminars, where some intense individual would always frown, look wise and say “Aren’t we in danger of being teleological here?”

  3. Botham, Flintoff, Stokes. Beer, some association with the north, swing bowling, bludgeoning batting, working class, fighting.

    My question is, we’ve had three world-beating players cut from the same cloth, but has there ever been a similar example from another test nation? Andrew Symonds hits some of the marks but fails on the world-beating bit.

    And so the second question is, if not, why not?

      1. Keith Miller? Sobers?

        It is a bit difficult for players from other countries to be associated with the North and to some degree the class thing as well.

      1. Kallis went to Wynberg school, which is about as posh as it gets in Safferland. He wasn’t especially known for swilling beer, either. Which leaves “world class all-rounder who bowled swing”.

        I’m with Bert on this one – it is a quintessentially English thing occasionally to produce a northern, working class, beer swilling, world class, all-round cricketer.

        Botham, Flintoff & Stokes have all massively enhanced my enjoyment of cricket. The promise, the disappointments, the off-field antics, the match winning performances. I feel privileged to have been born at the right time to get full value from all three of those careers.

      2. I think Kallis was as far from the English Holy Trinity in character as a seam bowling all rounder could be.

        The tired, but not altogether untrue trope that Botham-Stokes-Flintoff “make things happen” is reversed in Kallis. His entire purpose seemed to be to prevent things happening.

        He is definitely in my Disinvested XI.

        Mind you, he was the guy to turn to if you ever needed to bury a sheep.

    1. There’s another thing about these three as well, somewhat in reverse. Each of the three has at points in their career been the single most significant cricketer in the world. I can’t think of another English player that has achieved such heights, even if only for a short time. KP comes closest, but each of the three has a match / series named after them, something deeply embedded not just into the cricket fan’s memory, but into the wider consciousness as well.

      It seems that to be head-and-shoulders the stand-out cricketer in the world, an Englishman cannot ever have been near a public school, and needs to enjoy a pint or twelve. It also seems that this approach does not work in any other country. This is our thing, our USP, our edge. The beery northerner with a taste for a pie floater is what makes English cricket great, often single-handedly. Where is the elite programme focussing on these aspects for our kids?

      1. Arguably, it’s the cricket module that needs to be added to that particular degree.

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