The new Ian Botham?

A look at just how important Andrew Flintoff is, not just to the English Cricket team, but to English sport as a whole.

So, I began writing this piece a couple of weeks ago. Workloads took over, and it got put to one side as I opted to write on the Test match that had just passed last week. Nonetheless, I thought, I’ll save this piece on Freddie Flintoff, and it’ll coincide nicely with his return to action for England.

And how excited was I, going to watch England V Pakistan, at Lancashire, with Flintoff, of Lancashire, as captain.


The recent news – the bad news as far as England are concerned – is that Flintoff is now out for 12 weeks. Not only will I, and 300,000 others, miss out on seeing Flintoff in the remaining three Tests, but he now faces a race against time to be fit for the Ashes.

Attempting to defend them without Flintoff would leave England on a hiding to nothing. We are no one-man team, but he is the man that makes the team tick, and he is supposed to captain us out there. Why is Flintoff so important to England, and why exactly is he the most high-profile English cricketer since Botham?

Flintoff can do anything on the cricket field. If he wasn’t a bowler, he’d probably be a wicketkeeper. He can bat it out with his back to the wall or he can bat aggressively (see his absolutely blistering 73 against the Aussies at Edgbaston last summer).

He can bowl tightly and economically or he can take wickets like there’s no tomorrow – for example, against the Aussies at The Oval, Flintoff’s five wickets were largely responsible for the enemy falling from 264-1 to 367 all out – and he catches them in the slips like he’s at training practice.

Add to that, he’s an inspiration to everyone, a real motivator, and, well, he can really hold his ale.

For years, the English public cried out for a “new Ian Botham.” Many a talented cricketer came along and was touted as the next potential one. Darren Gough was, well, Darren Gough, who, by the way, has a Test batting average of 12.57. Hardly the stuff great all-rounders are made of.

Yet when Flintoff came along in 1998, he was hardly anything to get excited about. In his first ten matches, he had a highest score of 42, and had taken just seven wickets. For the best part of three years, Flintoff was just another talented English cricketer who would surely amount to nothing. He was in and out of the team, and just seemed to be a continuance of the garbage we had to endure in the 90s.

Yet by 2004, or at a push 2003, he was the world’s best all-rounder. By 2005 he was the world’s premier Test Cricketer, as chosen by the ICC (an award shared with Jacques Kallis) and he captained his country for the first time early in 2006.

We were no longer looking for our new Ian Botham. He was to be forever consigned to history, the old Andrew Flintoff.

Flintoff’s stats may not quite stand up to Botham’s, but Botham never won a Test as captain, while Flintoff first did so in India, where England hadn’t won a Test for 22 years.

Is it, though, going too far to refer to him as invaluable? Is Flintoff’s importance to the cause over-estimated? Or, is he not valued enough? He is worshipped, he is perceived as being able to walk on water, but he is taken for granted. Yes, a lot of the nation have once again fallen into their four-year cycle of being indifferent to the summer game, but those who do love it are perhaps not making the most of what is there, in front of them. One of the most formidably talented sportsman they will ever see, something really special, an absolute phenomenon.

Flintoff is not just the perfect cricketer, though. He is exactly the sort of sportsman the English public cry out for. He has everything. He has the equivalent ability for his field as Wayne Rooney. He has the leadership and general COME ON!! qualities as Steven Gerrard. He is a family man, like David Beckham, but without the idiotic need to publicise his family, or to sleep with his personal assistant.

And he can drink, drink like hell, like a rock star.

He is everything we love – a sporting hero, a responsible father and husband, and he knows how to party. He’s a northern lad. He is one of us. That’s how we see him. When we watch Flintoff, we see ourselves, a lad who likes a pint but does not shirk responsibility. The only difference between the lads in the seats, and Freddie, is the fact that he has bags of ability.

That’s not necessarily true, but that’s what we can think, how we can view it. It could have been me, or you, or anybody.

He’s a celebrity nowadays, but not by choice: “I’m nothing like Kevin Pietersen, he’d turn up to the opening of an envelope”. Flintoff is a warrior on the field, and by all accounts in the pub, but somehow I can’t imagine him holding a pre-World Cup party next march for all his teammates, and inviting ITV to broadcast it.

I don’t think us, the English public, truly realise what a great thing we have on our hands with Flintoff.

Yes, he is idolised, not just by the youth, but by grown idiots like me – I was genuinely devastated when I discovered I would not get to watch him next Friday, just as I was genuinely excited when I thought he was going to play – but is he honestly appreciated?

Sure, there has been no attempt to drag him down and cover him in scandal; because of who he is, it’s not a possibility. But Flintoff is injured because he burnt himself out. I don’t have medical evidence for this, but he bowled 68 overs against Sri Lanka. Non-cricket lovers probably don’t appreciate exactly how much that is, but let me explain.

When a fast bowler runs in, eight times his body weight goes through his leading foot. Flintoff is a big, strong lad. He was bowling in the 80-85 mph region in the Sri Lanka match, so I’m sure you can imagine the weight going through his foot in that match.

Two games later, he was injured, no coincidence whatsoever.

Sure, it was Fred’s own decision to bowl that much, but we let him. We convinced him he was invincible, because he is so good. Now, the greatest sportsman this country has possessed in a generation is injured, out of an important series against Pakistan where the world #2 ranking is up for grabs, out of the Champions Trophy (not that that matters) and could well miss The Ashes if there are any delays in his recovery.

So I issue a plea, to the ECB and Duncan Fletcher – I appreciate that he is the best man for the captaincy in Vaughan’s absence, but don’t let him try and do it all himself. It only ends in tears. And to Michael Vaughan, when you come back, look after him. To the other fast bowlers – bowl well, for God’s sake, don’t leave it all to Flintoff.

Most importantly, to Flintoff himself, please do not try and run the whole show. You are a great bowler, a great batsman and a great captain. You are no doubt a great father. Please, please, look after yourself, because we love you, we need you, without you, we are nothing!

When he’s gone, we’ll reminisce. We’ll talk about his first test century against New Zealand, or maybe his joyous flip as he dismissed Shane Warne at Old Trafford. And, eventually, we will wish and hope and pray for a new Andrew Flintoff.

Who is Ian Botham anyway?

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