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Flintoff shows old sparkle on comeback

Paul Edwards

May 30, 2014

Comments: 7 | Text size: A | A

Andrew Flintoff turning out for St Annes in the Northern Premier League, May 31, 2014
Andrew Flintoff took three wickets and a memorable catch on his return for St Annes © Getty Images
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At precisely 12.19pm on Saturday afternoon, a member of St Annes' first team parked his large black BMW in the Vernon Road car park, collected his cricket bag from the boot and loped up the stairs into the home dressing room. Only the Sky cameras and the gaggle of spectators suggested he was anyone special.

There was no entourage of minders, no designer gear, no sponsored kit. Both popular and populist, Andrew Flintoff, 36, enjoys being one of the lads.

Even as the crowd gathered to watch the club's most famous old boy step up his search for cricket fitness in preparation for a possible return to T20 cricket with Lancashire in Friday's Roses match at Old Trafford, Flintoff sat on the outfield and listened with his new colleagues to captain Andy Kellett's brief team-talk. Before long, he was also joking with the Penrith opponents, all of whom seemed disarmed and chatty.

"It's brilliant," said visiting chairman Andy Hill, as he supervised the warm-ups. "The lads were texting each other with the news yesterday. It's just fantastic and we can't wait. One of modern cricket's leading allrounders will be playing against little old Penrith."

Flintoff pleased with fitness levels

  • "It was nice to get 12 overs under my belt. That was one of the things I wanted to do today, I wanted to bowl. That is something to build on. I am running in all right, just out of a bit of timing. Lancashire are at Old Trafford all week so I will try and play for the second team. There is plenty to work with, I am pleased with where I am at.
  • "I didn't think I was going to bowl as many as 12 but one of the things I am going to have to look at over the next few weeks, it does take me a while to get going so I am going to have to warm up. Certainly the first spell I bowled, the longer I bowled the better it got. The second spell, I just wanted to bowl some yorkers and practise some of the things I might have to bowl rather than worrying about the situation in the game but yeah I am fine, putting my body on ice. There is plenty left in the tank.
  • "With the catch, if I get my hands in the way, I have got a chance. I missed the yorker a little bit and with that, you always have the chance of it coming back at you and then I suppose instinct took over and that's what I do.
  • "Batting, I was telling myself, just knock it around and then I just blocked it to long off but I am really happy with where my batting is at. I have been working hard on a few things and maybe at Old Trafford, I am going to be working with Gary Yates, modifying a few things. It would have nice to get a few today but I don't want to get into any bad habits so I will pick it up in the morning.
  • "I'd be lying if I said that physically things didn't hurt a bit. But then I've got a kneeful of metal. I twisted my ankle three-and-a-half weeks ago. However, it's better than it was when I finished first time around. I'm just enjoying it to be honest. I'm not putting too much pressure on myself. I'm not making big hopes.
  • "I'm just going to see where it goes. I appreciate that Lancashire are on a roll in Twenty20s and there's Jos and Jimmy and people to come back in to that side. So it's not a gimme that I'm going to play. But I'm going to try to put myself in the frame. I just love being around it. It's great fun. I've had a good day today, I've enjoyed it."

Just prior to the match, Flintoff went into the clubhouse. "I hope he doesn't go into that room with his cricket shoes on," said one pavilion-proud stalwart. "I'll bollock him if he does." He needn't have worried. The last thing Flintoff wanted on Saturday was special treatment.

His cricket offered illustrations of both formidable talent and curious frailty. After going through a series of stretching exercises, Flintoff came on first change at the Vernon Road End and had Greg Hall caught behind by David Watson in his sixth over. He swung the ball both ways and bowled at sufficient pace to hustle good Minor Counties batsmen with his bouncer.

But it was only when he was brought back into the attack from the Highbury Road End that Flintoff displayed his ability to take a cricket match and change it with a moment of extraordinary brilliance. Penrith's professional, Paul Hindmarch, was playing a fine attacking hand and was carrying his side's innings with an innings of 65 when he whacked a straight drive back to the bowler, head high and heavens hard.

Flintoff stuck out his right hand and grabbed the ball. There was the briefest moment of silence among the 300-strong crowd. Hindmarch stood stunned at the crease before trooping off.

Recall that run out of Ricky Ponting at The Oval in 2009. In its particular context, the dismissal of Hindmarch belongs in the same category. Once again, it showed that while Flintoff may not be a great cricketer, he remains a cricketer capable of great deeds. In one astonishing moment of hand-eye co-ordination, he turned this Northern League game in St Annes' favour. Having been 113 for 5 and with their professional in full flow, Penrith were bowled out for 132 on a pitch where the par score was something over 200.

"Some club cricketers would have been too frightened to put their hands up there," observed the venerable former player John Kettlestring. "A lot couldn't have done so if they'd wanted to and most of the rest wouldn't have caught it in any case."

By tea, Flintoff had added another wicket to his bag and finished with 3-26 from 12 impressive overs. His batting, however, will not have offered quite as much comfort to the Old Trafford coaches. Having stroked a couple of singles, he "blocked" his third ball to long-off, thus giving medium-pacer Jonathan Osborne and fielder Jack White a dismissal they will dine out on for years ahead. St Annes crept home by two wickets in the hand and Flintoff posed in a team photograph for something like a hundred club members. It is an open secret how much they love him in this part of the Fylde coast. He plainly likes coming back, too.

"I have really enjoyed it," he said. "Turning up this morning, managing to get back on the field. I have not played here for 20 years and it's like I have never been away.

"It's just crept up on me this. It's not something that was a goal of mine, that I set out to do. It's just come around quite innocently. And that's been the nice thing about it. I'm not chasing anything. I'm just enjoying it. Why shouldn't I? I like cricket."

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Posted by   on (June 2, 2014, 4:47 GMT)

Can't wait. All the best to him. At 36 he's only a year older than me and I still feel young! I hope he has a stormer and gets another couple of years of cricket before he hangs up the boots for good. Nothing like a good fairytale. Ignore the cynics, Fred.

Posted by   on (June 1, 2014, 15:12 GMT)

A fine cricketer that Hindmarch and nice to see Freddy being Freddy.

Posted by liaqathussain on (June 1, 2014, 11:51 GMT)

With out kp england lack the star player, I would ask him to play until the next home ashes and then call it day for good,

Good to see him back

Posted by Front-Foot-Lunge-Needs-A-Hug on (June 1, 2014, 7:16 GMT)

It's great. I'm a cricket enthusiastand seeing Flintoff back playing is great stuff.

Posted by RMDover on (June 1, 2014, 4:19 GMT)

I'd pick him straight away. He's clearly fit enough to bowl four overs at good pace. That said, I wouldn't bat him higher than 8, or 7 at a push. Batting is definitely the harder of the two disciplines to bring back up to speed after a few years out, and Lancashire have plenty of batting in their line up (in t20's anyway). I'd just leave out Lilley (or Ali or possibly Clark, depending on the situation).

Posted by   on (May 31, 2014, 22:01 GMT)

Ignore Botham, Fred. It's a great story and your life.

Posted by   on (May 31, 2014, 20:06 GMT)

let's see what good old Freddy can do with the bat once he has played through the rusty hinges, maybe the roses match comes a bit early for that and with much at stake (reching finals day) it is questionable whether he should be selected at all.

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