The meaning of Freddie
Three initial thoughts occur, on reading of the retirement of Andrew Flintoff, and ahead of the deluge of career obituaries we can look forward to tomorrow. The first relates to the potential he never fulfilled, the second to his finest hour, and the third to his character.
It’s said of all but the greatest players in any sport that they never fulfilled their potential. This is a truism: nobody fulfils their potential fully. But occasionally, the gulf between what a player achieved, and what his talents suggested he was capable of achieving, is so huge that it merits comment, and is sad. Flintoff is one such player. His Test batting average of 31.77, with five centuries, is probably three quarters of what he should have achieved. His bowling average of 32.78, for 226 wickets at a strike rate of 66.1 but with a (very impressive) economy rate of 2.97, is less disappointing, but still well short of what his abilities probably warranted.
This should be seen, of course, in the context of his exploding onto the scene as a batsman who bowled a bit (though fast), who morphed into England’s best strike bowler as well as England’s best defensive bowler. And the chief reason he fell short of the peaks he may have climbed was, of course, the interminable injuries throughout his career.
And yet, on both batting and bowling fronts, he should take responsibility for his shortcomings. As a batsman, he simply failed to apply himself sufficiently for the demands of the Test arena, and remained determined to play horizontal-bat shots when a straight bat was called for. He didn’t work hard enough at building each innings, and let England down when they needed more from him. As a bowler, Duncan Fletcher has pointed out that the reason his economy rate was so impressive was also the reason he didn’t take more wickets: he bowled too wide of off-stump, to both right and left handers. It cannot be said enough that, though he took 4 wickets in an innings 11 times, he took a 5-fer just three times in Test cricket. As Fletcher is wont to say, if a batsman had scored three centuries over a 79-Test career, he would have been very lucky to play so many Tests. Which says something bad about the (lack of) competition for places.
His finest hour was being the face of England’s triumph in the Ashes of 2005, more so even than Michael Vaughan. The bleary-eyed (read: pissed) Lancastrian who went for a pee in the garden of No 10 was also the deliverer of a magical over to Ricky Ponting, culminating in the dismissal of the Australian captain. And the image of him shaking Brett Lee’s hand, after the Australians had snatched defeat from the jaws of victory in the Edgbaston Test, was the defining image of that great sporting summer, and a testament to the enduring generosity of sport at its best. Unlike many to whom the phrase is applied, Flintoff really did have a finest hour, and it was a hell of an hour to have.
Above all, his impact on the game was a function of his being one of the most decent, charming, and genial player’s in the history of the game, a man who devoted hours to charity without seeking public recognition for it. Shane Warne always said Freddie was one of the good guys in the game; and nobody who has spent any time with him could doubt that his company was a joy.
Which is precisely why fans everywhere will hope his gregarious spirit outlives his playing days. Especially at the moment, cricket needs him more than he needs it.
The best of luck to him.
Click here for Andrew Flintoff: A career in pictures (Photo: Getty Images)
Tagged in: andrew flintoff, Cricket, england
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