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UK editor, ESPNcricinfo

The demeaning of Fred

Andrew Flintoff's outburst against Michael Atherton only serves to tarnish the way we would like to remember him best.

David Hopps

June 23, 2012

Comments: 83 | Text size: A | A

Andrew Flintoff spruces up before hitting the ramp for Naomi Campbell's Fashion For Relief - Haiti, London, February 18, 2010
Flintoff immediately embraced celebrity culture after his retirement © Getty Images
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Players/Officials: Mike Atherton | Andrew Flintoff
Teams: England

How is retirement going so far for Andrew Flintoff? There is cause for concern after reading his rant about Michael Atherton. Life after cricket might not be as happy-go-lucky as it appeared.

As luck would have it, as this piece is being written, the television is showing Flintoff walking off at Lord's after a one-day match against West Indies in 2004. The sun is shining, the crowd is cheering and Flintoff, a younger, presumably more contented Flintoff, is beaming with delight as he raises his bat to the crowd. Life does not come much better than this.

He made 123 off 104 balls that day, his highest one-day score, and a year later he was to win a nation's hearts as he helped regain the Ashes. He was the People's Champion: brave, honest, big-hearted, down to earth. He was a man to rouse a dressing room, to play the game with indomitable spirit, to share a beer with when the fray was over. He was the stuff of dreams.

Then came the injuries, the drinking, the enforced retirement at 31, nearly two years ago, and an immediate embracing of the celebrity culture that promised to make the most of his popularity. He has travelled the world as a TV adventurer, risking extreme sports and tracking exotic animals. It is probably swelling the bank balance. I wonder if it is bringing him true satisfaction? Judging from his unprovoked attack on Atherton, he is harbouring deep dissatisfaction.

Fast forward from that sunny day at Lord's eight years or so to a story that first appeared this week in the Diary column of the London Evening Standard, a story that has since been eagerly adopted by agencies and newspapers around the world. Nobody has had time or inclination to investigate it very much. Nobody even knows whether he was provoked into saying it. Flintoff Slags Off Atherton: nothing more to be said.

This is what the Londoner diary reported. You might as well read it in the original, asterisks and all:

"Andrew 'Freddie' Flintoff was not mincing his words at the Sky TV party at The Oxo Tower on Tuesday night. Speaking to the Londoner, all his bonhomie turned to scowls when the subject of his erstwhile England colleague, former captain and now Sky TV and Times journalist Michael Atherton, came up.

"He's a p***k," said Flintoff. "He's a f*****g p***k." Why so? "He sits there making judgments about players that are much better than he ever was, believe me, he's a p***k.

"How can he talk about a player like [current England opening batsman] Alastair Cook who is 10 times the player he ever was -- he has a much bigger average and will go on and on. Atherton averaged in the 30s for England and yet he thinks he can judge others."

Asked whether he minded saying this to a journalist, Flintoff, who was accompanied by his glamorous wife Rachel, said: "I don't care. Say what you like. There's no love lost there."

The intention is not to moralise, because many of us can point to the times when we have behaved in a manner we regret, especially in drink. Admiration for Flintoff's England exploits will pass into history and a few ill-advised outbursts are not about to change that.

But Flintoff's boorish comments have become public property. His attack demeans him. He comes over as bitter and resentful, with very little cause. Quite rightly, Atherton has chosen to ignore it. And, most crassly of all, Flintoff timed his personal attack at a party at Sky TV - the very company where Atherton, again quite rightly, is held in such high regard as an insightful, fair-minded and scrupulously independent commentator, not to mention his numerous writing awards. Atherton understands sport. He is sought-after company.

Flintoff's logic - that you are disqualified from criticising anybody who has a better Test record than you do - is hardly original. "How many Test wickets / runs did you get?" has ended more than one conversation from Ian Botham, to mention one of many. But it is facile for all that, a lazy substitute for intelligent thought.

It is a shrewd cricket journalist who recognises where the limit of their knowledge and experience lies, and acts appropriately, but to suggest that Atherton has a limited right to comment upon Alastair Cook (he questioned Cook's worth as a one-day player, an opinion he adapted as Cook responded to widespread criticism by taking his game to new levels) because Cook has a higher batting average is the most extreme version of this theory.

Perhaps the Flintoff Rule could be introduced beyond sport into everyday life: architects could only be assessed by architects who had built more, or taller, buildings; brewers could produce whatever ale they pleased, free from debate, if they had brewed more barrels; and don't even dare to complain about the state of the roads if you have never laid tarmac.

The Londoner diary speculated - and so did everybody else, for want of a better theory - that Flintoff's enmity might stretch back to 2006, when Atherton suggested quite reasonably that he did not think Flintoff was the right man to England captain.

 
 
Perhaps the Flintoff Rule could be introduced beyond sport into everyday life: don't even dare to complain about the state of the roads if you have never laid tarmac
 

It was an honest assessment that Atherton had every right to make - indeed which his job gave him an obligation to make. As it happened, history proved him absolutely right. Flintoff was broken by the England captaincy, no more so than in a spectacularly failed Ashes defence in 2007.

He slept behind the nets in Adelaide, turned up drunk for a practice in Sydney and ended the winter by falling off a pedalo during a failed World Cup campaign. Duncan Fletcher, then England's coach, felt so betrayed by Flintoff that he would have sacked him in Australia only to fear (without much cause) the media reaction.

There is also a small passage in Atherton's autobiography where he refers to Flintoff's negative effect in the Lancashire dressing room, where they were both team-mates. "With the new brigade of promising cricketers such as Andrew Flintoff came agents, negotiations and contractual squabbles," he wrote. "His demands coincided with an end to the pay structure and thus harmony in the dressing room... It meant the club capitulated weakly to the demands of someone who shouted the loudest."

The passage touches on an uncomfortable truth, that since Flintoff's departure, the England dressing room is also a more united and professional place.

But the reasons for this affair run much deeper. It is probably not as much what Atherton has said as something less easy to define: a stray phrase or expression, a different philosophy of life, a simple clash of personalities. It is a conflict between Atherton, an aesthetic figure as cricketers go, proud in his own beliefs and comfortable in his own self, and Flintoff, straight-thinking lad made good, who has come to need the world of celebrity and yet is somehow made empty by it.

Atherton, a Cambridge University graduate, often agonises over a life given largely to cricket, but he has made the transition from player to analyst with his reputation enhanced. He commanded respect as a player but little public adulation, and he would not have known what to do with it if he had. As an analyst, he has few equals. And he feeds from nobody's trough.

Flintoff not only received the adulation, he has built his life upon it. Since retirement, he has lived on the fringes of cricket, playing out the mythical role of Fred. He has been a captain on sports panel shows, the celebrity face of Morrisons supermarket, a guest commentator (briefly) on the world darts championships.

He was the star of Freddie Flintoff vs The World, in which, according to the promo, you could watch "cricketing legend and ultimate bloke Freddie Flintoff try his hand at some of the most extreme sports and challenges on offer around the world". It is lighthearted, harmless, knockabout stuff, not the sort of thing that Atherton would set his timer for. Nobody would ever call Atherton the "ultimate bloke". He could probably think of few tags more unwelcome.

Flintoff has explored bat caves in Borneo, tracked wallabies in the Australian outback and gone mountain biking for a deodorant company. He has done pretty much everything but comment upon England cricket. If such an offer ever came along, he would also be expected to sit in judgement and to experience the same daily tensions that Atherton et al cope with every day.

As retirement beckoned, Flintoff lived in Dubai for 18 months, tax affairs in hand no doubt, before shifting back to England because he was "missing the English sunshine." When he moved to Surrey, he told Hello! magazine that he was missing the north. "Moving to Surrey is an adjustment in itself," he said. "I'm trying to get used to it, but I've always lived up north or in cities, so it's just as strange for me to be living in the country now."

The programme that caused most discussion was Freddie Flintoff: Hidden Side of Sport, broadcast in January this year. The subject was clinical depression in sport, and during it Flintoff looked back at the low points of his own career and wondered whether in his lowest moments he might have been clinically depressed.

It was a topic of conversation in dressing rooms and media boxes at the time. Few of those closest to him imagined that he had been clinically depressed. It is to be hoped that his mood as conveyed in the Evening Standard diary was exaggerated or only temporary. But as Flintoff has posed the question about himself in the past, it seems appropriate, as his rage against Atherton receives worldwide attention, to wonder about his welfare now. The Flintoff of our memories should rightly survive into old age.

David Hopps is the UK editor of ESPNcricinfo

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© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by JG2704 on (June 26, 2012, 22:24 GMT)

Got to be honest I echo what most on here are saying. Seems like Flintoff's ego has taken over (ala David Haye in boxing - who was a much better fighter before he started coming out with all his rubbish since becoming a heavyweight). As others have put on here a great player does not necessarily make a great analyst and vice versa. Botham is certainly the best English player who analyses for Sky but certainly not the best analyst IMO. I personally like Allot,Butcher,Cork,Lloyd and non Sky commentators Agnew and Hughes (all lesser players) far more than Botham. As for Athers , he certainly wasn't as inferior as Fred makes out. Let's not forget he had a much lesser side around him and I remember times when he saved games for Eng (once I think vs SA when he and Gus -another great analyst) saw the game out. Also I don't think Athers ever lost a series 5-0 as a captain.

Posted by JG2704 on (June 26, 2012, 22:22 GMT)

@jay57870 on (June 24 2012, 22:07 PM GMT) I'd say that while Atherton's comms were not great (and I'll take your word for it what he said) , to say something straight after a match when the adrenalin is still running high is different from this IMO. Also no swearing or anything and as you said he did apologise. Also this article has indicated that Atherton has not taken it further himself so is that not "manning up and taking it"?

Posted by FatParrot on (June 26, 2012, 10:45 GMT)

Excellent piece this. Freddie could benefit from reading this and taking stock of his situation.

Posted by Ross_Co on (June 25, 2012, 16:20 GMT)

What a pity that two of the greatest England captains of the modern era can't get along. Greatest from the Australian point of view that is. Bit odd for Freddie to be carping on about averages when he spent his whole career with English pundits telling us not to judge him by his (frankly mediocre) figures.

Posted by LancsTwins on (June 25, 2012, 15:42 GMT)

Flintoff said a silly thing that he shouldn't have said. Beyond that, I don't really know why David Hopps thinks that this is important. And I really don't know why he thinks Flintoff's celeb media career is important in this debate. I'm sure Freddie was happier when he was playing. So was just about anyone. You only need to listen to the wistfulness of Geoff Boycott to get a flavour of this. I'm sure Flintoff would be playing if he still could - he can't, so he has to earn a crust somehow. I'm sorry he and Atherton don't get on as I like and admire them both. But blaming Flintoff's media work seems unneccesary.

Posted by TheLonelyisland on (June 25, 2012, 13:04 GMT)

I did spot the great joke half way in the middle - 'Duncan Fletcher ... felt so betrayed ...'

I nearly wet myself laughing.

Posted by jay57870 on (June 25, 2012, 10:48 GMT)

(Contd) There's more! After Tendulkar achieved a record 100 international centuries in March, Atherton promptly described the incredible feat as "this ridiculous thing" (borrowed tweet from "an English cricket writer of long-standing")! What else? Feeds from nobody's trough? Really? Again he unashamedly invoked Ian's name numerous times in parroting (pirating) Chappell's criticisms - agonising wait, self-obsession, faulty mind-set! By giving Ian plentiful credit, maybe Mike hoped he would not be charged with plagiarism! Not to mention a most "demeaning" column on a batsman regarded by reputed cricket historian David Frith as the "greatest of our time"! Instead, Mike devoted the concluding 4-5 paras to praising Rahul Dravid's retirement & his "greatness"! As for the Little Master, he simply ignores such idle commentaries: He humbly lets his batting do the talking! Re: retirement, that's entirely Sachin's call and his alone. It's none of Mike's business. Aesthetic figure? LOL!!

Posted by jay57870 on (June 25, 2012, 10:33 GMT)

David - Is Atherton truly a "scrupulously independent commentator"? Far from it. At best, Mike is a Ian Chappell copy-cat. At worst, a Chappell name-dropper! After brother Greg's unceremonious exit as India's coach following the 2007 WC debacle, Ian questioned Sachin's future with a (Snow White) "Mirror Mirror" dictum to him to retire. Mike promptly jumped on the Chappell band-wagon with a poorly cloned fantasy version: He mocked Sachin as a (Virgin Comics) "Comic Hero" whose powers had waned! He cited "conspicuously tough" Chappell thrice, as if he needed beefy Ian behind him to back up his argument! For instance, Mike wrote: "I hope, like Ian Chappell, that he (Sachin) is strong enough, and independent enough, to make up his own mind (to carry on playing)"! Really? The same Atherton - who could not face a journalist's questions or the pressures of a humiliating WC match in Pakistan - dishing out second-hand advice on Sachin's future! Scrupulously independent? LOL!!

Posted by left_arm_spin on (June 25, 2012, 4:45 GMT)

After reading the article it seems to me that the author is somehow sympathetic towards atherton and rightly so i must say.I didn't read what atherton had actually said about cook but it didn't come out right.To me the english cricket pundits are too judgmental! and they make biting comments too often (like boycott).Although author rates atherton's discerning ability highly but he was proved wrong in cook and tendulkar's case (in 2007) !!!!!!! Anyways it may seem that i am trying to validate what flintof had said!!!!No i am not!!!!!MY point is english cricket pundits need to think twice before getting toojudgmental and writing a player off!!! otherwise in future there will be many more "atherton-flintof" saga!!!!!!

Posted by   on (June 25, 2012, 0:03 GMT)

"The passage touches on an uncomfortable truth, that since Flintoff's departure, the England dressing room is also a more united and professional place."

I'd suggest it has more to do with Moores leaving the coaching role and the right man finally becoming captain. It's also decidedly rich for Atherton to complain about someone coming in and dismantling the Lancashire pay structure when Athers, along with another media heavy in Bob Willis, were part of the Cricket Reform Group in 2003 who wanted to utterly dismantle county cricket for the good of the England team. At present, we have a successful team without the scrapping of counties as Atherton suggested. One suspects that this spat goes back a lot further and a lot deeper than any journalist on Cricinfo knows. Atherton is not immune from mistakes: ask many Indian fans on the classic piece in 2007 claiming Tendulkar was finished!

Posted by jay57870 on (June 24, 2012, 22:07 GMT)

David - Yes, Flintoff's rant is deplorable! Then what about Atherton's verbal attack "Can someone get this buffoon out of here?" against the Pakistani journalist Asghar Ali? The tired English skipper was in no mood to field questions from Ali, after a frustrating loss to South Africa & an embarrassing duck in the 1996 World Cup at Rawalpindi! So Atherton's equally "boorish comment" too is "public property": Monkeygate! You know the buffoon - the monkey with the red bottom! Remember the ugly Harbhajan Singh- Andrew Symonds episode at the SCG in 2008? Bhajji was promptly given a 3-Test ban on a racism charge, later reduced to a 50% match-fee fine for abusive language. As for Atherton, he issued a formal apology and got away scot-free. A "pukka sahib" after all! A "Cambridge University graduate" indeed! Bottom-line: If Mike's good breeding allows him special privileges to dish out "dirt", then he should man up and be willing to take it too! Right, Freddie?

Posted by Lara213 on (June 24, 2012, 16:27 GMT)

Great piece said almost everything I wanted to say. One could also add that Atherton's average of 37 was against 3 of the great all-time bowling combinations: Ambrose/Walsh, Waqar/Wasim, McGrath/Warne, all at their peak. Put Cook or any other of the current English batsmen against that and watch their averages crash. Cook has been lucky facing harmless or even wayward bowling attacks: India, Australia in 2010/11 or this year's Windies. His one encounter against a decent but not great Pakistani attack and his average collapses to 25!

Atherton who captained England creditably at a difficult time when they didn't have the talent to take on the best, but acquitted themselves as tough and resilient opponents, deserves better treatment from a streaky player whose own record is patchy at best. Atherton had an almost old fashioned sense of duty and obligation that went beyond himself and his achievements and deserves more respect than just a crude comparisons of career averages.

Posted by shillingsworth on (June 24, 2012, 14:50 GMT)

@Ryan Noronha - A Sky function attended by journalists is hardly a private party. He knew he was talking to a journalist and agreed to his words being published. As such, I see no difference to him saying it on air or in print.

Posted by Behind_the_bowlers_arm on (June 24, 2012, 10:56 GMT)

I enjoy Mike Atherton's work on Sky and judge his opinions on their merits but welcome them even if i disagree. Id rather listen to him than a boorish buffoon like Flintoff any day of the week. I enjoy David Lloyd's work too and HIS Test career was most memorable for Jeff Thomson raising his voice an octave via some cracked plastic. Some great players can talk well on the game with insight (ie Warne, Benaud) and some cant and many of the most interesting commentators had minimal or non existent Test careers.

Posted by stickman7 on (June 24, 2012, 10:36 GMT)

Mike Atherton won matches for england, saved them and scored 3 times the amount of hundreds that freddie did, Does freddie desereve to criticse athers? Athers had a more succesful career than freddie. And look at the bowling athers faced. Australia. Glenn Mcgrath, merv hughes, shane warne, jason gillespie, craig mcdermott. South Africa, Donald, Pollock. pakistan, mushtaq, younis, akhtar, akram. Sri Lanka. Murali. West Indies. Walsh, Ambrose, marshall. If athers had played now he would have average 50.

Posted by Badgerofdoom on (June 24, 2012, 10:19 GMT)

Whether or not Atherton was a better batsman that Cook is irrelevant. There is an important difference between being able to understand and comment on the game and actually having the talent to carry it out on the field. Many good coaches and commentators were pretty average cricketers.

Posted by ballonbat on (June 24, 2012, 9:58 GMT)

Muski, Mark Thompson and all the others who think Flintoff has the right to say what he said because Atherton was a lesser player... Read the article again and use your brains this time. Do you object to John Arlott or Christopher Martin-Jenkins making assessments of players' abilities? Simon Hughes? Of course not! After all, Simon has a first class batting average of about 11. He is therefore perfectly entitled to express opinions on Freddie's batting. And as for the many writers who have dared to comment on Bradman's batting? Well, surely only God might do that, given that no one, not even Bradman, has batted more brilliantly than Bradman. You people write a lot of poppycock. There are people following every sport and in every other field - fine arts, cinema, literature, etc - who are called critics and commentators. We rely on their educated opinions. Unlike you armchair critics, the professional critics like Athers, understand the game and make intelligent comments. So shut up.

Posted by   on (June 24, 2012, 8:57 GMT)

Not sure how aesthetic Atherton is, but ascetic may be the word you wanted!

Posted by muski on (June 24, 2012, 6:38 GMT)

LOL- This reminds me of our Indian Commentators like Atul Wassan, Arun Lal, Sivaramakrishnan etc who talk of technique, bowling in the right areas etc when they were themselves were utter failures when they played. Totally agree with Freddie. Moral of the story- dont comment about someone who has achieved something which you could not.

Posted by Buggsy on (June 24, 2012, 5:31 GMT)

I never quite understood the fascination with Flintoff. He had one good series against Australia in 2005, but was found out against the same team 18 months later in spectacular style. England cricket is much better off without him.

Posted by timmyw on (June 24, 2012, 5:14 GMT)

Hmmm wonder how Flintoff would have gone batting against, Wasim and Waqar, Walsh and Ambrose, Allan Donald, Shane Warne all in their prime. His average would be even less than it already is is my guess. I have nothing but respect for Atherton, and something less than that for Freddie now.

Posted by RandyOZ on (June 24, 2012, 4:49 GMT)

Flintoff - averaged 31 with the bat and 33 with the ball. You want to know what else is average? You are Andrew. Average cricket with average results. Led England to a 5-0 whitewash in the Ashes, that's about all he will be remembered for.

Posted by   on (June 24, 2012, 2:48 GMT)

Flintoff, or for that matter anyone, can say pretty much anything they want at a private party. People slag their best friends off at private parties, forget enemies. Doesn't mean their lives are going down the drain, or they're depressed. If he said it on air, on print, its a different matter. Pulling random comments made by someone and putting them in the mainstream media isn't really cricket. Even if it does happen. On the flip side, you cant really blame them as Flintoff's view about Atherton is world shattering news, just like Kate Middleton's hat flying off.

Posted by Drew2 on (June 24, 2012, 1:45 GMT)

Amusingly, Atherton's was a specialist batsman only, yet his best bowing in 1st class cricket was 6/78. Flintoff never took 6 wickets in an innings in any form of major cricket - infact, he only managed 5 in 1st class cricket 4 times! Maybe he should look at his own ststs.

Posted by   on (June 24, 2012, 1:37 GMT)

Flintoff was a match winner in his day, atherton was a boring opening batsman that wouldn't of made the team in the current game. Flintoff has every right to have a poke at atherton. I really never liked atherton as a player or captain. Did athers win the ashes? enough said.

Posted by m0se on (June 24, 2012, 1:13 GMT)

I really thought Freddie would be an IPL and T20 star like Gilly, playing for years and raking in millions. It would have been very entertaining to have Freddie in one of the IPL teams but alas he missed his golden opportunity. Freddie gave it all to England and even didn't save a bit of himself for the IPL gravy train. Freddie is a star and it is beneath him to quibble with low level commentators and analysts like Atherton.

Posted by JB77 on (June 24, 2012, 0:30 GMT)

This just illustrates why Flintoff was always referred to (especially on this site) as 'talismanic'....epithets such as 'legend', 'great' or even 'very good' just don't apply.

Posted by   on (June 23, 2012, 23:52 GMT)

As it happens I think that Atherton's contribution as a player is being a bit underplayed in this discussion - if he was as mediocre as many of the comments are saying or implying, then how come he played over 100 tests? On the statistical side, as others have said, it was more of a bowler's era, so Atherton, as a batsman, will suffer compared to an all-rounder. And stats aren't everything, anyway. I can't remember who said it, but I can remember one Aussie who played against Atherton, being surprised when being told that his average was 'only' 36 - he said something like 'Seriously? Well, it seemed like more than that when we were trying to get him out.'

But all that aside, Atherton no longer has to justify himself as a player, any more than whoever presents 'Film 2012' has to justfy their skill as an actor. Commentary is a different game. Maybe harder, maybe easier, but different.

Posted by tearawayquick on (June 23, 2012, 23:50 GMT)

Athers had to play the likes of Mcgrath,Walsh,Akram,Abrose,Walsh and Waqar.. in thir prime hence his average is a little lower, there wern't too many opening batsmen who have set the world on fire against these blokes.. Athers brings a fresh air with his thoughtful and intellectual assesment.. whats wrong if he is judgemental.. I dont think he crosses the line.. Many of the other commentators either are too diplomatic or understate or are repetitive with their banal phrases.. Can we have more commentators like Athers please...

Posted by Echeese on (June 23, 2012, 20:42 GMT)

Atherton's reign almost put me of English cricket forever - uninspriring leadership, average player and no charisma, a real bore with very few Test wins and a bucket load of feeble excuses. Flintoff however had the ability to bring people who did not normally watch cricket to be fired up by England and whilst not a necessarily good exammple to follow, he certainly set the game alight. A big man with a big heart, big mouth and a big presence but a genuine character of the game who will be remembered forever.Love him or loathe him, he had a huge influence on English cricket whilst 'Iron Mike' can only ever dream of such a reputation.

Posted by   on (June 23, 2012, 18:47 GMT)

If we're talking stats, Flintoff totally wasted his talent. A batting average of 31 is poor for someone with so much natural ability.

Posted by   on (June 23, 2012, 18:47 GMT)

To be a commentator, you don't have to be a batting/bowling idol of your days. Its a totally different job from being on the field. I didn't see much of Atherton's game being a child at that time, but I have followed him as a commentator and I have nothing but respect for him in that role. You can't compare two players playing in completely different eras. Its not Atherton's fault that he isn't a player but a commentator in the era Cook is playing. Its almost exactly the same sentinment Pietersen expressed for Nick Knight in the not-so-distant past.And Pietersen hadn't been right either.

Posted by   on (June 23, 2012, 17:42 GMT)

They are 2 Lancashire lads, both great contributors in their own way to English cricket, and both forced to retire early (both 31?). They are also both heroes of mine. And there the likeness ends. They are from 2 different worlds in lots of ways. Atherton can't be Flintoff and Flintoff can't be Atherton. I wish the Londoner had not bothered reporting this, it does no-one any favours. Ignore it Michael!

Posted by   on (June 23, 2012, 17:27 GMT)

Atherton was a decent cricketer, a good captain - but an exceptional commentator. I don't expect that's the way around he would have chosen his abilities 25 years ago when he was just starting his cricket career. His books on cricket, and gambling are excellent thoughtful reads, his column (in a newspaper I normally despise) is on an equally high and consistent standard. Flintoff was a "big hit" cricketer, not consistent, but a match winner on his day. A talisman - without whom the Englanmd we se today, the best Enbgland we have had since the 1950's..may not have existed. Who would I rather spend an evening with? Atherton...I can go out and get mullered any night with my mates, but MA Atherton is someone whose opinion on many things I find intersting and thoughtful

Posted by Vindaliew on (June 23, 2012, 17:27 GMT)

As I have no idea to cook, I guess I am not entitled to any opinion as to the quality of the food I eat at restaurants? Freddie was an iconic player, but like Beefy he is not the sort who is made for intellectual discourse about the game from without. Beefy, though, has found purpose (and immense respect - even more respect than he commanded as a player) through his fund-raising for leukemia research, and rarely comments about cricket unless asked in an official capacity - he's just too busy. Freddie, on the other hand, needs to find something to aim for in life now that the stage which he commanded is no longer his. It need not be something he's excellent at, but it needs to be something he is passionate about. Otherwise he's in danger of feeding off the past and no longer being welcome in cricket circles, and given what Freddie brought to the game in his later years, it would be tragic if it ended that way.

Posted by   on (June 23, 2012, 17:17 GMT)

Ask Allan Donald ! I think I know who he would prefer to bowl too !

Posted by   on (June 23, 2012, 17:08 GMT)

Atherton was an average player ..Flintoff a lot better as he was an allrounder ..

Posted by   on (June 23, 2012, 17:01 GMT)

What's the big deal?? He gave his honest opinion. Flitoff came to the rescue of his former teammate. Love Flintoff!!!

Posted by hhillbumper on (June 23, 2012, 16:57 GMT)

I guess who has more insight into their game of choice.Would rather have Atherton any day

Posted by EddyM on (June 23, 2012, 16:44 GMT)

which of the two guys do you respect? nuff said

Posted by the_blue_android on (June 23, 2012, 16:37 GMT)

Atherton was an average player who played may be 3-4 good innings in his entire career. Freddy on the other hand was a crowd puller and entertainer who under-achieved. Atherton would not have made any international team other than England.

Posted by Emancipator007 on (June 23, 2012, 16:18 GMT)

My take is Fred had timed his retirement to be the world's most sought-after & highest paid T20 player (remember his "freelance cricketer" comments?). Only a rash of injuries post-Test retirement nixed his plans & meanwhile Gayle has become the most-sought after "mercenary" T20 player. The cricket limelight can be highly addictive (IPL "Big Boys Play at Night" hooha, Big Bash brashness, his already cult status in Eng domestic cricket all of which he had hoped for) and I am betting he is missing all that. Plus Eng seems to have moved on very easily without him (Fred though he was indispensable when he semi-retired first) and that must be rankling. Lashing out like that unprovoked showcases that. Ganguly has been dealing with the same issues of not being in limelight as a player (though of course he is obsessed with winning IPL once for his own self-esteem) even though he is the most sough-after commentator in India. Human nature!

Posted by Emancipator007 on (June 23, 2012, 16:17 GMT)

Atherton can be "smugy",hoity-toity at times (why do the highly educated always act like know-all's and can't be zen-like in dispensing wisdom humbly).But no will doubt his trenchant yet incisive insights about the game and his fearlessness in taking on the "biggies"-BCCI in India! He should also take the ECB to task when needed to be absolutely neutral. Flintoff has always been boorish on the field, baiting players & was directly responsible for undermining KP's captaincy stint; so to call him a "people's champion" is a bit too much. But no gainsaying that he stretched every sinew on the field and when bowling at 90 mph was lethal. Only going by Fred's logic, only Imran,Kapil,Hadlee,Beefy,Sobers can comment about his game or only Gavaskar,Lara,Richards (or those with 50+ avg.)can criticize Tendulkar.I guess that disqualifies thousands of posters on cricinfo forums from ever commenting about players. LOL.

Posted by shot274 on (June 23, 2012, 15:35 GMT)

I can remember Flintoff relaxing on tour and criticising James Blunts album. I await Freddies solo album with much enthusiasm!!!

Posted by   on (June 23, 2012, 15:16 GMT)

I have the underlying feeling that we are dwelling much too much on the stats of two guys who have left the sport and can do nothing now to change the figures they generated during their careers. If we are relying solely on stats then in my view the sport is poorer for it and if we are relying on tabloid gossip then equally cricket loses out. In my view legacy comes from the assessment of the entertainer and his ability to make you feel that you are watching something special and historic. Whether Flintoff likes Atherton or vice versa is irrelevant. Much of what goes down in history is the story and the passion of the player. Atherton was a decent batsman who probably wouldn't get into the England side were he playing now. Flintoff who came on to bowl and you knew you were watching history would create problems for the current selectors if he was fit. What won't be remembered is what either of them may or may not have said about each other.

Posted by 2.14istherunrate on (June 23, 2012, 15:07 GMT)

These sort of outbursts are best left unreported. Telling the dog or the cat is generally the best way of not having your secret go half way around the world.Re the text- Most of the '90's batsmen had lower averages than those of the last 10 years- and one does not have to be a genius to see why. By most experts' admission the last decade has been for batsmen, the previous one for bowlers, and in some places the pitches have been flatter than in the past, particularly in WI.Which is not to denigrate the recent past, but were seriously Atherton, Stewart, Thorpe any lesser players than Strauss, Cook, Trott etc? the difference is there are 5 or six of that quality now, and above all there is KP who is the best of them all.... and there are contracts.And there is a world class 4 man attack instead of Gough Caddick and whoever could get on the park. So there is less scoreboard pressure. Re Cook- still getting better and will be great, but steady not spectacular. Athers-Brain. Fred-brawn.

Posted by CricFan78 on (June 23, 2012, 15:07 GMT)

I dont know what class Atherton has as an analyst. His repeated below the belt attacks on Sachin has been well known.

Posted by cricmahanty on (June 23, 2012, 14:45 GMT)

I've got no problems with commentators judging players who are better than they ever were, as long as the judgements aren't utterly baseless. The commentators are fully entitled to their views and are paid for the same, as Nasser says time and again. There are many people out there, not just in cricket, but in many fields who get to judge people who're more talented or skillful than they themselves are?were.

Harsha Bhogle has never played any sort of competitive cricket above University level? Does that mean he has no right to point out any certain flaw that he notices about some odd cricketer? And we all know how good a commentator he is. The same goes with the likes of Tony Cozier or Alan Wilkins.

Posted by   on (June 23, 2012, 14:23 GMT)

Alan McGilvray was the finest commentator I ever heard. He never played test Cricket. Gideon Haigh writes extremely well but never played test Cricket. Test statistics mean nothing when you are analysing a player.

Posted by Deuce03 on (June 23, 2012, 14:12 GMT)

I've never seen Atherton pass comment in a way that was anything other than measured and reasonable. His captaincy nous also exceeded Flintoff's by an enormous margin. Fred's comments, on the other hand,leave a rather nasty taste in the mouth.

Posted by   on (June 23, 2012, 13:54 GMT)

I thought Flintoff was an entertainer,,,,,didnt think he put much emphasis on statistics.Since he has brought the subject up, wonder what he thinks of his batting and bowling STATS compared to King Kallis ?! Its David and Goliath.

Posted by luks on (June 23, 2012, 13:36 GMT)

"Andrew Flintoff's outburst against Michael Atherton only serves to tarnish the way we would like to remember him best."

I don't endorse Flintoff's comments on Atherton and anyone is free to judge cricketers on their cricket. However, why should anyone care about how we would like to remember someone. They are what they are. You don't want to remember them, don't.

Posted by venkatesh018 on (June 23, 2012, 13:25 GMT)

Atherton is an absolute gem as a commentator and expert. Neither Freddie or anyone can alter that.

Posted by itsthewayuplay on (June 23, 2012, 13:13 GMT)

Flintoff had some notable highs as mentioned in the article but probably underachieved overall during his career. He was a fierce competitor and played the game in the right spirit and at his peak was an inspiration to younsters worldwide. But the language he has used in what is essentially name calling in response to Atherton means that my perception of Flintoff as a person has gone done. Few people like to be criticised but it's part of life and you have to be prepared to accept it along with the praise. Flintoff has suggested that the roots of his difference with Atherton lies in a game of chess and if he had left it at that, this IMO would have a better and mature response.

Posted by mac72 on (June 23, 2012, 13:02 GMT)

So if average is the only way we can judge the quality of a players understanding of the game, how do Flintoff and (perhaps even more relevantly) Botham, explain Mike Brearley? I wasnt an Atherton fan as a player, perhaps because I was too young to appreciate his ability to shore up an end whilst leading a terribly untalented team against fantastic bowling attacks, but as a writer he is fantastic, I personally cant see Flintoff having that level of insight.

Posted by Kitschiguy on (June 23, 2012, 12:45 GMT)

I named my cat 'Athers'. 'Nuff said.

Posted by demon_bowler on (June 23, 2012, 12:34 GMT)

A very well-written, sensitive piece, David. I wonder if Flintoff, who I suspect is a more sensitive and intelligent chap than he's sometimes made out to be, is really happy with the laddish image his new career imposes on him.

Posted by NanoTechnology on (June 23, 2012, 12:09 GMT)

Two English players, of whom stats alone don't do justice. Flintoff isn't overrated, he was briefly the best allrounder in the world, and I don't think many try and claim much more than that. Atherton (and one or two others) held the weight of the world from completely crushing England during the dark years.

Both mighty achievements. Maybe in the long term Flintoff will only be remembered for his playing days, but he would do well to remember that a legacy is not entirely divorced from the present. (especially when one has a batting average in the 30s good sir...?)

Posted by BellCurve on (June 23, 2012, 11:54 GMT)

Atherton played most of his cricket as opening batsman against very strong teams in bowler friendly conditions. He played 60 matches against Australia and the West Indies and scored 3487 @ 30.59. Against the rest of the Test Nations (excluding Zim and Ban) he scored 3982 @ 47.40. He retired from Test cricket on his own terms when he was just 33 years old. Very few people who comment on these pages understand cricket statistics. But those who do would not look at Atherton's record without a fair degree of admiration. Flintoff for a short while was the best all-rounder on the planet. But his career started and ended poorly. It is hard to believe that he is more than two years younger than Jacques Kallis, who is still performing consistently at the highest level.

Posted by Percy_Fender on (June 23, 2012, 11:53 GMT)

Michael Atherton is remembered as an opening batsman with that bull dog spirit that so symbolises English cricket. He was not as you say the "people's captain' or the' ultimate bloke'. He preferred humour in words rather than in action.Cambridge educated, he was quite obviously from a different level intellectually than Andrew Flintoff ever was.. It is just the game of cricket that brought these two gentlemen together firstly for Lancashire and then for England. The image I have of Freddie is of a brute who could play cricket. A game he played rather well even. And because he helped England beat the ole enemy in the 2005 Ashes, he has the gratitude of a nation. This situation breeds arrogance. and that is what I will remember Freddie for. In calling Atherton names, he has probably shown his fans that he may not be worth the trouble.It is quite possible that he is frustrated in life after cricket.

Posted by   on (June 23, 2012, 11:30 GMT)

I am an Aussie who lived in England during Fintoff's 'Glory' days. Even though he is a Pom, I quite liked him. However, he is one of the biggest wastes of talent in the last 20 years. He spent the first half of his career overweight ... no wonder his body eventually let him down. Once he did break through and become a dangerous player, he wasted it again by being the 'party boy' getting carried away with the hype & his cult following. The bloke could've been anything. At the end of the day he will be remembered by me as a mediocre cricketer and, apart from a few spectacular series & performances, a waste of talent. Atherton however, will always have my respect for the fight and courage he showed in a terrible cricket team. He never captained England to 0-5 Ashes whitewash either!

Posted by dave_67 on (June 23, 2012, 11:25 GMT)

The key issue here that needs to be challenged is Flintoff's ludicrous view that opinion and understanding of the game is in some way connected to talent or ability - it's the same nonsensical argument that KP used in his attack on Nick Knight. The most gifted footballers rarely become great coaches and the most successful managers in recent history have either never played the game professionally or were considered journeymen at best. The notion that players can only 'respect' coaches or journalists who achieved something in their sport is absurd and only highlights the blinkered and limited thought process of players such as Flintoff and KP. The players who recognised their modest ability or natural talent and compensated for it by using intelligence and hard graft, such as Mike Atherton, are the people whose comments on the game generate stimulating debate and encourage progressive thinking and analysis. Flintoff should be ashamed of his in outburst but it comes as no great surprise

Posted by AdrianVanDenStael on (June 23, 2012, 11:11 GMT)

It's unfortunate that Flintoff should get caught out like this offering some very ill-thought-out words. I'm a bit surprised that the article doesn't mention another of Flintoff's activities since retirement. It's not true that Flintoff since 2010 'has done pretty much everything but comment upon England cricket', since he used to have a column in the now defunct News of the World, which he used, for instance, last summer to advocate dropping Kevin Pietersen from the England team. With the collapse of the News of the World, however, Flintoff has lost that opportunity to 'feed from' what is virtually the same 'trough' from which Atherton has grazed when working for Sky and writing for the Times. Does this outburst, specifically at an event hosted by Sky TV, suggest that Flintoff feels some bitterness at not having opportunities Atherton still has? Murdoch obviously didn't think that much of Flintoff's potential as a cricket journalist, or he would find him a column elsewhere.

Posted by   on (June 23, 2012, 10:38 GMT)

As a child, my hero was Atherton. England were a poor team in the early 90s, admittedly, but were facing some of the most potent attacks of all time from West Indies, Australia and South Africa. Atherton embodied the spirit of English cricket during this era for me - dogged and unyielding.

I didn't hold any English cricket in such high regard until Flintoff came along. While Atherton could "hold the fort", he could never really dominate the opposition. Flintoff could dominate. He was destructive and epitomised a new era of confidence in English cricket for me.

However, the value of BOTH of these players is belied by their averages. Both suffered lengthy runs of poor form; faced more potent attacks than any faced today, and gave fans and fellow players alike confidence and hope.

Therefore, to hear Flintoff criticising Atherton for his average doesn't just smack of hypocrisy, it's also a slap in the face to all the Flintoff fans who've defend HIS poor average over the years.

Posted by Dravid_Pujara_Gravitas on (June 23, 2012, 10:28 GMT)

Likewise, Flintoff too doesn't have flattering stats. I consider Flintoff as a one series wonder boy.

Posted by vick122 on (June 23, 2012, 10:24 GMT)

@s.jagernath-well said. there are many commentators who have made a career out of diplomacy the point in case wud be the great richie benaud who hardly ever criticizes a cricketer and there are a few like geoff boycott who have the audacity to speak their mind but thn these guys dont find many takers. cricket commentary can be termed as pedestrian whn compared to football commentary whr a club class player does not mince words whn criticizing a world class footballer and its such a welcome change from the mundane and boring cricket commentary

Posted by Narkovian on (June 23, 2012, 9:59 GMT)

Good job that the great commentators/writers, of cricket were not judged on their 1st Class record. Actual ability has little to do with it. Arlott, Johnston, Aggers, Blofeld, Lloyd, Engel, Keating. In fact too many are only there because of their cricket ability, and are very ordinary commentators.... no names no pack dril.. you know who you are !!

Posted by Herbet on (June 23, 2012, 9:53 GMT)

By Flintoff's logic, if you are only allowed to comment on test players with inferior stats than yourself, then he would be a very average pundit, restricted to comments on mid 90's English all round trundlers like Mark Ealham, or some of Bangladesh and Zimbabwe's less inspired selections. In short, his stats are rubbish. Regardless of stats, Atherton was a great player, from a time literally inundated with great fast bowlers and English pitches unrecognisably bowler friendly to the stuff they play on today. Not to mention the second half of his career, when his average tailed off to below 40, being ruined by a severe back injury. The England team have been unquestionably better and harmonious since Flintoff's retirement and Harmison's departure. While we're here too, Botham, to me, never comes across well in commentary, appearing a bit of dunce in the company of Hussain, Atherton and Holding, incessantly complaining of a lack of slip catchers.

Posted by Somerset-Richard on (June 23, 2012, 9:49 GMT)

I was unaware (as I guess most of us were) about Flintoff's criticism of Atherton until reading it here. We're all allowed to have people that we don't get along with, and presumably Atherton/ Flintoff is an example of this. Most of us Poms would, I'm sure, enjoy having a beer with Andrew Flintoff, just as most of us Poms would enjoy a beer or a glass of wine with Ian Botham. I use the example of Botham, because he is the best comparison for Flintoff. Just as statistically Atherton is a pale shadow of other England batsmen (I mention Boycott here), Flintoff's England career figures are very poor against Botham. Atherton was the best opening batsman we had at the time but it was his misfortune to be playing cricket during the career peaks of Wasim, Waqar, Warne, McGrath, Ambrose, Walsh and Donald. That didn't make him a lesser batsman than Boycott. I'd enjoy a drink with Flintoff or Botham but if I wanted a really inciteful cricket conversation I'd choose Atherton and Boycott.

Posted by Nutcutlet on (June 23, 2012, 9:40 GMT)

Flintoff? Overrated by everyone with discernment. So that doesn't include the man himself.

Posted by BigDataIsAHoax on (June 23, 2012, 9:39 GMT)

I think Fred Flintoff is spot on here. Exactly my thoughts. These commentators believe they can say anything they want just because they are on the roster of a sports channel. It's hilarious how they talk about technique and class and what should and should no be done when they were no good at it! Hahaa. Don't agree? Check Artherton's record against McGrath and Shane Warne. He was a sitting duck against both of them. On the other hand look at how Lara and Sachin played those two greats. Useless commentators! Well said Freddie!! Goon on ya mate!!

Posted by S.Jagernath on (June 23, 2012, 9:34 GMT)

Michael Atherton,who is paid to make judgements on cricket & cricketers,to judge the quality & value of a cricketer was just doing his job.Atherton's test average is not important when he is working as journalist that is judging a player's technique.Andrew Flintoff is no legend,he was a good player but he isn't a legend.Atherton is a commentator that I enjoy listening to & his criticism of players is welcome.I liked how he emphasised Mahela Jayawardene's lack of ability away from Sri Lanka during England's recent Sri Lankan tour,he is gutsy.Too many commentators play it too safe & do not make valuable judgements.

Posted by   on (June 23, 2012, 8:07 GMT)

There is some nonsense talked about Atherton. Anyone who really watched the England sides he had to carry against much stronger teams would realise he was more than an average cricketer. He was a very good batsman and committed hugely to his England and Lancashire career.

Posted by   on (June 23, 2012, 7:17 GMT)

One of the interesting things to remember about Flintoff is that England's record was much better when he was injured than when he was in the side. He's the anti-Brenan?

From the real start of his career in SA 1999, his record was W28 D24 L25

England's overall record was W54 D38 L38

Meaning without Flintoff: W26 D14 L13.

Posted by vick122 on (June 23, 2012, 7:10 GMT)

@chithsabhesh-u r absolutely spot on.cook,trott,graeme smith,jayawardene are a few players who are averaging much more thn they shud and its largely due to the lack of quality bowlers at the international scene.excepting steyn,morkel,anderson nd zaheer khan there are hardly ne bowler who can test the mettle of a batsman.i distinctly remember how the "great" mathew hayden used to struggle against the great curtly ambrose and made a stupendous career once the greats had retired.

Posted by rakaiaroyal on (June 23, 2012, 7:03 GMT)

I think you're drawing a long bow to suggest that Flintoffs comments can be attributed to his life being empty. Maybe he said what he said because he doesn't like Atherton. We all call for sportsmen to be honest and break away from the one game at a time clich├ęs, then jump on them as soon as they do so. He probably could have put it better but at least he offered an opinion.

Posted by Hammond on (June 23, 2012, 7:01 GMT)

Flintoff should never have been made England captain, and Atherton knew it. Shame to say it but this is all sour grapes from the big likeable Lancastrian.

Posted by joseyesu on (June 23, 2012, 6:30 GMT)

It is not Cook fault on not to face a bowler like Wasim, Waqar, Mcgrath calibre. Barring Steyn and Anderson no other players has the respite on overseas... Considering the demand from the players and the competition, it seems it is all OK. Similarly Chappel's will decide on the players ability by seeing at one go... As far as me concerned, COOK seems all OK to Eng team.

Posted by Narbavi on (June 23, 2012, 6:01 GMT)

Freddie thinks that he has become a hero with these statements against Atherton, but little does he know that as an analyst, Atherton is entitled to express his views regardless of what he was in his playing days!!

Posted by   on (June 23, 2012, 5:54 GMT)

Yeah cook has a better average. But if he had faced wasim , waqar, Donald, Pollock like athers did his average would be half of what is it now.

Posted by ab_cricket on (June 23, 2012, 5:43 GMT)

Greatness is achieved through consistency. with that parameter none of the English batsman barring Graham Gooch from the 90's and 00's decade can be termed great. May be Cook/ Bell/ Trot etc in the current team could reach greatness but they also will have to be very consistent. Flintoff from a non partisan perspective was a good player but not a great one. He definitely had the potential to be great but could not become one because of various reasons. Atherton was an average player but that does not mean that he can not have better understanding of the game/ situations. For me this just a personal grudge which happens with all of us once in a while and has nothing to do with the understanding of the game. Flintoff's onslaught over Atherton would only disappoint those who are Flintoff's fans.

Posted by valvolux on (June 23, 2012, 5:34 GMT)

Flintoff is the greatest example of the english media getting carried away. He believed his own hype - but forever will be known as a one series wonder. It is athertons job as a media personality to comment on people, regardless of how he compared. Cook was a battler early in his career and was righly left out of the one day side. and a one series wonder might feature in a few fond memories - he just shouldnt be considered even one of the best allrounders of the last decade, cause there are just far better out there.

Posted by dsig3 on (June 23, 2012, 5:04 GMT)

I actually like him better. At least he is saying what he thinks, rather than all the fake platitudes. Yes looking at Knight, Nasser and athers. Have another cup of tea David and calm down.

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David HoppsClose
David Hopps David Hopps joined ESPNcricinfo as UK editor early in 2012. For the previous 20 years he was a senior cricket writer for the Guardian and covered England extensively during that time in all Test-playing nations. He also covered four Olympic Games and has written several cricket books, including collections of cricket quotations. He has been an avid amateur cricketer since he was 12, and so knows the pain of repeated failure only too well. The pile of untouched novels he plans to read, but rarely gets around to, is now almost touching the ceiling. He divides his time between the ESPNcricinfo office in Hammersmith and his beloved Yorkshire.

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