March 9, 2013

A giant on his knees


England's "tubby blonde Alexander" in his pomp, at Edgbaston in 2005 © Getty Images

"What an immature, self-destructive, antiquated mischief is man!" said Evelyn Waugh when describing Andrew Flintoff. And how right he was.

The year is 2012. The slightly scraggly looking husk of a fat blonde man stands in a boxing ring wearing union jack pants with a mystified air. He doesn't look like he believes he doesn't belong here. His eyes, at least, look alive. But behind the eyes there is an air of solitude. The air of someone repeating to themselves a self-convincing mantra, in the words of Rocky Balboa - "I ain't no bum, Mick, I ain't no bum."

I don't know whether he wins or not. But I think I have seen this person before.

The year is 2005. A well proportioned, slightly beefy, blonde chap with a dark spot in his hair bowls six balls of unparalleled ferocity, which will soon become noted as amongst the greatest in Ashes history. This tubby blonde Alexander - looking like the English village churl - gives his heart and soul to destroy the old enemy and then, when they are lying in tatters at his feet, in a fit of divine sportsmanship, goes down to console his distraught opponent. Such acts of sporting greatness do not come very often.

Andrew "Freddie" Flintoff's career resembles the arc of Icarus tracing an excruciating fall, from England cricket darling to media whore in quicker time than he felled Justin Langer and Ricky Ponting on that day at Edgbaston. The question is why? Why the gameshow panel? Why the extreme sports? Why the darts commentary? Morrison's supermarket adverts - why? The drunken Atherton rant - well maybe....

Time and again the sporting world throws off its damaged goods, felled sportsmen, once-great fighters reduced to the status of bums. It isn't surprising of course. Put yourself in their shoes.

"Each time you see something great in decline it cuts away at the sense of marvel and worship that filled you as a youth, the shine that made you run to the television or radio and laud your heroes"

How do you recapture that split second of intense greatness that normal men dream about? It must seem a dank and grey world after you lose it - one where, as Michael Vaughan recently noted, you're no longer clapped into work. One where you no longer make drunken appearances at 10 Downing Street. Where if you capsize a pedalo in the sea - NO ONE CARES! In the most poignant piece of work Flintoff's done post-playing career, a TV programme on depression, he looked at some of these issues and came away as bewildered as ever.

I suppose it comes down to three things: life, purpose and meaning. We all need something to cling on to. Flintoff was hard done by in being wrenched from his career by injury when he still (in his mind) had so much more to give. Perhaps that he never had the long wind-down into cricket's dustbin suffered by many great pros (like Sachin Tendulkar clinging on to the frayed rope of past greatnesses) irks him.

And why does it matter anyway what he does with his post-sport life? He may be fine and dandy. Maybe such inane pokings are like those of the journalist who asked the famous "Where did it all go wrong George?" question, as George Best was reclining on a bed with £20,000 and a Miss World in his arms.

Well, I suppose it matters because each time you see something great in decline (Sachin again) it cuts away at the sense of marvel and worship that filled you as a youth, the shine that made you run to the television (or radio) and laud your heroes with the still untainted eyes (or ears) of disappointment.

In that sense it's a hard thing to see Flintoff flounder. But perhaps Flintoff's decline isn't his own problem. It's the demise in our eyes of a legend that we, the cricket fan, has created. Perhaps it's time we let go, not him.

A quite passionate follower of cricket and writer of articles, Safi Thind is one of the authors of the cricketerdiaries blog

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Simon on March 11, 2013, 3:56 GMT

    There is no doubting Flintoffs greatness in one series where the whole team lifted when he came on to bowl; and he bowled great. I don't know that he replicated those efforts. But like so many he is attracted to being centre of attention and he has found another possible way of doing it. OK as long as he doesn't get hurt again.

  • Richard on March 10, 2013, 20:52 GMT

    Yawn. Old hat. Flintoff was not the greatest, nor the wisest, but he had his moments in the sun (2005 and 2009) and his public loved him - and will continue to love him - for that. Achievement as a sportsman does not oblige him to meet the author's (or anyone else's) approval in retirement.

    What he does in the years that follow is no business of those who don't enjoy the rubbish telly he uses now to fund his lifestyle. Don't watch it. Remember Edgbaston 2005 and smile. BTW, the over to which you refer was a seven baller, but don't let the truth get in the way of a bitter story.

  • Dummy4 on March 10, 2013, 16:26 GMT

    Freddie quit cause his body gave way, not because he couldn't hold on to a rope of greatness. Yes, he played well in Ashes 2005 but he did so because he was supported by Simon Jones/ Steve harmisson and Matthew Hogard. Can I ask what happened to Freddie when he lead the English down under after the 2005 Ashes, he performed like a giant.. oh no wait...m his side was routed 5-0 by Aussies. Greatness is not what you do once in your life, it is your ability to maintain a level of commitment and discipline for a prolonged period of time and yet be humble about it. Don't compare Freddie with Sachin, when they will assemble the Worlds greatest players in a room, Freddie will be waiting outside hoping to catch a glimpse of greatness when Tendulkar walks in.

  • Dummy4 on March 10, 2013, 13:34 GMT

    @Mohit Sharma, you don't understand. OK. Let us put it this way. Could Akram, Tendulkar(wins in India is like a secretary beating Tony Blair in a typing contest), Lara, Alan Donald, Kallis or Ambrose(after 92/93) manage to take their sides to victory against Australia? Could Dennis Lillee, Jeff Thompson, Greg Chappel, Imran Khan, Miandad, Kapil Dev, Sunil Gavaskar, Richard Hadlee(ignore that odd series), Crowe, Botham or Gooch manage to take their sides to victory against the Windies in the eighties? But Flintoff did. I am talking about two of the three greatest sides ever and a fiercely contested series. And to English fans Flintoff is something more than that. Flintoff first declared England could beat the great Australians; all 11 of them are greats. Then he ran in and bowled fast day in and day out for more than two months; physical; manly. The post 1997 labour England was resolutely turning physical; Flintoff exploits assured them they were wise.

  • will on March 10, 2013, 13:25 GMT

    brilliant article - you speak an ugly truth!

  • Rav on March 10, 2013, 12:58 GMT

    I agree with featurewriter. This is one of the most pointless articles I have ever read on cricinfo. Won't be able to get that time back either. At times, I really do wonder what direction the internet is trying to take the future of sports journalism. Is this really the sort of thing avid cricket fans are expected to engage with? And let's please try an experiment where we attempt to generate readership without reference to Tendulkar.

  • Ski on March 10, 2013, 12:11 GMT

    As a 30 year old i can see it must be strange to experience your greatest achievements in your 20s or early 30s. What gets you out of bed after that?

  • Ski on March 10, 2013, 12:08 GMT

    Like has been said in another comment. it wasn't his stats but his x factor. His ability to crash fifty or sixty or start a spell with a wicket taking beauty. His true value was his ability to terrify the opposition simply by being there

  • Jeff on March 10, 2013, 10:03 GMT

    A poorly written piece. I was expecting a lot more from a writer who read English at Oxford. Very disappointing.

  • Dummy4 on March 10, 2013, 7:50 GMT

    What the stats do not show about Andrew Flintoff is that he was an x factor, an enigma and a game changer. So many times he changed games by taking a vital wicket when England desperately needed it opening it up for the others to do rest. Anyone who ever saw Flintoff play knows his greatness, and those who say otherwise clearly do not understand cricket. The reason he is still is in the spotlight after cricket has just as much to do with the public wanting to see Flintoff as Flintoff's ego does. You honestly think he could do all these things if no one cared about him. This article is nothing more than a scorned never was having a petty shots at Flintoff and Tendulkar and co. because let's be honest no one cares about you or ever will as much as people do about them.