Opinion: A fan conflicted about Fred's return
The feelings I have about this are similar to the ones Woody Harrelson had when Robert Redford offered him a million dollars to sleep with his wife. That is to say, I am a little conflicted about it.
So, after much chatter about it, Andrew Flintoff is making a cricketing comeback. He will play for the Lancashire Lightning in the T20 Blast. The feelings I have about this are similar to the ones Woody Harrelson had when Robert Redford offered him a million dollars to sleep with his wife. That is to say, I am a little conflicted about it.
I love Freddie. But it is Freddie the cricketer that still stirs emotions in me. I was too young to really appreciate Botham in his pomp. My only real access to Sir Ian came from a VHS cassette of Botham's Ashes, something I watched to the point that the Old Trafford game was almost impossible to see through the snow.
So when Flintoff came along as the latest in the long line of 'New Bothams' I was sceptical. As the early 2000s began Flintoff was very much a lot of potential without a huge amount of substance (other than the fact he was a 'fat lad').
It was his 13th Test before he made a score of over 50, his 137 against New Zealand in Christchurch. It was 2004 that Flintoff changed from a decent performer to a world beater. From that point onwards he averaged 35 with the bat and 28 with the ball.
He turned in performances that became the stuff of legend. There was the over to Ricky Ponting in 2005 that has millions of YouTube views. There was the five wicket haul at Lord's in 2009 where he was in agony from his dodgy knee but took Australian wickets through strength of will. There was the ball to dismiss Jacques Kallis in 2008 after Flintoff had worked over one of the greatest batsmen of all time.
There was his 167 against the West Indies in 2004, probably the perfect Flintoff innings. One that represented his ability to entertain and win matches in equal measure. Only seven men have hit more sixes in Test cricket than Flintoff, and no English player has matched him.
In that innings he hit one into the crowd that his father nearly caught. Flintoff senior fluffed the chance and it ended up in the lap of Michael Vaughan's mum. Fred was like a repository for stories like that one. Tales that will be passed from father to son for generations.
There was the Ashes tour of 2006/7 where Flintoff was a hapless captain devoid of any answers to a team of Australian legends out for revenge. There was the time he was so drunk he almost drowned after falling off a pedalo. But we could forgive him all of that, because he was Fred. He was capable of taking your breath away with bat and with the ball. He was the loveable mate that would make a fool of himself.
His final telling act in professional cricket came at the Oval in 2009. On the last day Australia were chasing an improbable target of 546 runs. The chances of them getting there were remote, but a solid partnership between Ricky Ponting and Michael Hussey started to fill Australian fans with hope, and the English crowd with trepidation.
I was there that day, and as Australia went into lunch at 172-2 I wondered around the Oval. I came across a bookmaker's stand. For a long time I have had a tradition of putting money on the amount of runs scored in the middle session of Tests I attend. I went to do the same only to find that they did not have the odds up that day. Instead I bet Ã‚Â£5 at 10-1 that the next wicket would be a run out.
After lunch the two batsmen continued to make serene progress until Hussey hit the ball to Flintoff and set off for a risky single. He swooped on the ball, picked it up and threw down the stumps. Freddie set up an Ashes win and won me Ã‚Â£50 in the process. It was the perfect end.
Then the post cricket career began. This is always a tricky time for us fans. The person who we have taken into our hearts as a result of their exploits in a bat and ball game starts to look for employment elsewhere.
With a charismatic character like Flintoff there was only really one route for him, and that was into the media. So the man who I had long admired became a reality TV star, a not particularly good professional boxer and a bantermeister on panel shows.
As much as it pains me to admit it, this post playing career has tarnished how I feel about 'Our Fred'. He is now much better known for his witty repartee with James Corden than he is for his 226 Test match wickets. He doesn't belong to me anymore. He has shifted to an alternate plain that is inhabited by hit and miss stand up comics, former football players and assorted fevered egos clamouring for attention.
I don't begrudge the man a living, he needs to make the best of opportunities that are presented to him. But like an old Polaroid picture, Flintoff's cricketing achievements are fading from my memory.
So he is going to play cricket again. You would think that this would a chance for me to rejoice at the chance for me to see one of my heroes doing what made him part of my life.
I don't feel like that. I am terrified that it will be as unedifying as when Piers Morgan decided he wanted to get battered by Brett Lee in the Melbourne nets. I am sure it won't be anywhere near that bad, but that is my fear.
I hope I am wrong. I would be so happy to Our Fred back doing what he did best.
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