Flintoff reaffirms England commitment
Andrew Flintoff has reiterated his belief that Twenty20 cricket will not impinge upon the primacy of Test cricket, by pointing out that it was his matchwinning feats at the game's highest level that have made him so attractive to the various clubs and franchises around the world that are now bidding for his services in the twilight years of his career.
On a short stop-over in London to promote his new autobiography, Flintoff defended his decision to turn down an ECB incremental contract, and confirmed that, following talks with the ECB, his over-riding ambition is to continue to play for England for as long as his form and fitness permits.
"Everything with them has been fine and above board," said Flintoff of his dealings with the ECB. "They know where we're at, and the reasons we're doing what we're doing. I'm available for every England game, except obviously Test matches, and for whatever they want me to do. Like every other player who plays for a county, you have to perform to get in the side.
"My motives are true," Flintoff added. "I want to play for England for a period of time, and I'd love to play more Test cricket but it's a physical impossibility, so the next best thing for me is to play ODIs and Twenty20s. Playing for England is what I've wanted to do since I was a kid, and I feel lucky to do it. I don't know how long left I've got to do it, so I want to play every possible game."
Despite his stated intentions, Flintoff's priorities were called into question last week when his agent, Andrew 'Chubby' Chandler, said that a desire to go bungee-jumping had been a deciding factor in his decision to reject the ECB's offer. But while Flintoff laughed off that particular notion, saying that bits of his body would fall off if he attempted anything quite so extreme, he insisted there was a serious point to his desire for autonomy.
"I've seen a lot of cricketers reach the end of their career and it has crept up on them," he said. "It happens very quickly, and in the end they have nothing to do. I want to forge another career so that there's a natural progression for when I do have to finish cricket. Obviously it's for personal reasons, but I've also got three kids and a family, and I want to provide for them. I want to work, and I didn't want any restraints over that.
"But I don't think it'll become the norm. Everyone gets lost a little bit in the rewards of playing Twenty20 cricket. The rewards come through playing Test matches and performing, because if you get your game right on the field, everything else will follow. I've experienced two sides of that, in my early 20s I took my eye off the ball and got carried away with other things, but then when I got my game right, the rewards are there for you.
"We've got a new generation of cricketers who are going to watch Twenty20s and can identify with it a bit more, but I don't think that'll have a negative impact on Test cricket," he said. "I still feel Test series, whether they are against Australia, South Africa or India, are the showcases of the summer. We're very fortunate in England to play in front of full houses, and for me it's everything. I'm bitterly disappointed I'm not going to be playing any more."
Flintoff added that he had not discussed his "freelance" decision with anyone outside his family and management group, but he nevertheless threw Kevin Pietersen's name into the mix as an example of a player who he believed would not seek to follow his example. "Everyone's asking will [Pietersen] do this and that, but he's desperate to play for England. I don't think it'll be the start of anything new.
"Years ago, Sir Garfield Sobers played for counties and Australian sides, and we've got a history of overseas players, and players going over to different counties," he said. "This freelance thing is a bit out of context, especially as I'm contracted to Lancashire as well. I don't think it's going to start a trend.
"I'm 31, I know my body and when I can play and not play," he said. "I've still got some personal ambitions that I want to do. I've got some contractual obligations with Chennai next year, and if the opportunity arose to play in Australia [I'd look at that]. I'd have loved to go to Australia when I was younger, but through touring for the past 15 years I've not had the opportunity to do that."
The rumours of Flintoff's future career moves continue to swirl, however, and he stated enigmatically that there would be more details emerging soon. He has been working with the UAE national cricket team while recuperating in Dubai, and has been offered some commentary work for next month's Champions League in India, although that remains dependent on his recovery from surgery. He also denied reports that he is to appear in the next series of Strictly Come Dancing and I'm a Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here.
"Whatever I do, the cricket will come first, and I'll build something around that," he said, reiterating his insistence that he would continue to give his all for England, regardless of the risk of yet more injury. "If I got injured playing for England, then fine, but I wouldn't pull out because I think I'm going to get injured, or to do something else. It's not an option. I'm available for every England game. You can talk about different scenarios, but provided I'm fit and not on crutches, I'm ready to go."
Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo