Monday, September 20, 2010

The Story We Already Knew

The manner in which Andrew Flintoff chose to acknowledge a fitness battle lost even as the tightest County Championship for years was coming to its conclusion did him little credit. What abject, thoughtless timing, a slap in the face for the game that nurtured him and set him on the road to fame and considerable fortune.

He and his advisers are sufficiently familiar with the machinations of many media desks which know little of county cricket and care even less, seeing only celebrity and names, to understand what would be placed top of the agenda. It is an uncharacteristic faux pas at odds with someone known for the generosity of his spirit. The stories of coming engagements with teams around the world were pipe-dreams: his management have been concentrating for some while on how best to handle his exit from the game and non‑cricketing future.

He was never one of the great all‑rounder’s, but a considerably better one than his statistics show superficially. He had the capacity to impact. He could take a game and tear it from the grasp of the opposition like no other contemporary in the England side. He was utterly indefatigable, never more so than in his heroic bowling at Lord's last year which won England the match and which perhaps precipitated his departure to the orthopedic operating theatre. When, in what was his last significant act for England , he ran out Ricky Ponting at The Oval last year, with a direct hit from mid‑off, it was a moment of inspiration. Only gifted players can produce such game-breakers on cue.

Since announcing his retirement from the game there have been suggestion and comparison with the greats of the ‘All rounder’ community most notably Botham, a man with the same attacking streak and an instinct to rise for the big games. Yet this comparrisomes leaves Botham looking a lot more average than he truly was. Flintoff was a Hero, one who turned up when the crowd wanted, but was found lost and wanting when captaining in series other than against Australia. Unquestionably, except in his own mind, he was a better bowler than batsman, a rampaging world-class fast bowler whose paltry three five-wicket hauls do not remotely do him justice. At times, perhaps, while physically menacing, and bowling the heaviest of balls, his direction of attack, which slanted in to right‑handers as his delivery arm went beyond the vertical, was not so disconcerting to the best players: the Australian batsman Michael Slater once confided how he found him comfortable to get away through midwicket on the angle.

As a batsman Flintoff never really had a true role in the line-up as his lack of technical footwork left him open to good bowling, what he did offer as a batsman was more in the way of heart and strength, but lacked the ability to trickle sneaky runs in tight matches preferring to smash the ball to all parts of the ground.

Sport needs its heroes and Flintoff became that. Here was someone whose achievements were beyond reach of the aspirations of the public, yet who remained one of them. He batted as they would like to bat and bowled as they would want. He was personable, liked his ale, got into scrapes. His football style celebrations after taking a 5 wickets became his cricketing logo, and the marketing machine went into over drive after the 2005 Ashes series. The following series away from the comfort of England proved that he was just a myth rather than a magician as his side was toppled 5-0 in a series dominated by cricketers of a different world-class.

I’m sure as Flintoff reclines back into the armchair of retirement and takes phone calls from a raft of talk shows, corporate events, dancing with stars and possible exhibition matches that he would have thought to himself that for the 4 years that his lime light lasted that he used it well and to his advantage. As a cricketer Flintoff was merely a man who played a couple of good innings in a cricketing era when the camera has every angle, and for a player who struggled to play certain angles on the pitch he was deft at playing them off it.

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