England's record in World Cups since they appeared in the 1992 final is nothing the write home about; in the last six tournaments they have failed to reach the semi-final stage. Few believed that England would seriously compete in the latest edition, and it was much the same when the team headed to the Caribbean in 2007. And so it proved: forgettable cricket was compounded by a media storm around allrounder Andrew Flintoff.
England came into the tournament on the back of a humiliating 5-0 whitewash in the Ashes. Flintoff had captained the side in Australia but his own form had been poor, he had struggled with a persistent ankle injury, and there were reports that he had been warned more than once for drinking. Duncan Fletcher, England's coach, confirmed those rumours later in the summer when he said why a net session had to be ended early. "Flintoff was in such a state that he could not throw properly. He had to pass the ball to the bloke next to him to do so. And when it came to trying to catch the ball, I honestly thought I was going to hurt him, so uncoordinated was he. I was fuming and stopped the practice early."
There was a glimmer of hope as Flintoff, standing in for the injured one-day captain Michael Vaughan, led England to victory in the triangular Commonwealth Bank Series that followed the Tests in Australia, and his own form seemed to be returning.
Vaughan was back to lead the side in the World Cup - Flintoff was handed the vice-captaincy - where England opened with a defeat to New Zealand. Flintoff was dismissed first ball but bowled economically and took a superb one-handed catch. That evening - which was only two days before England's next game against Canada - Flintoff and several other team-mates headed to a bar next to the side's St Lucia hotel for a few drinks. With a midnight curfew it was not expected to be an issue.
However, for five of the team along with two of the coaching staff, the drinking went on into the early hours. It might have ended there had Flintoff not decided he needed to have a nightcap with Ian Botham, who he believed was on a yacht moored off the beach. Talking to Piers Morgan last year, Flintoff said: "I thought: 'I can't swim... that would be dangerous', so I was going to get a kayak. I couldn't find the oars, so I dragged this pedalo into the water. The next morning I woke up, I was on my bed and… still wet and… sand between my toes."
Although Flintoff had no recollection of what happened, onlookers did. He had had to be rescued from the sea after the pedalo had capsized. "The door knocked. The door had these slats, and I thought it was the maid wanting to clean the room. So I said: 'Can you come back?' But it was the coach. I pulled the slats down and answered the door, and then Duncan just said: 'My room. Now.'"
The squad was summoned to a team meeting where Fletcher let rip. Paul Nixon, the wicketkeeper, in his autobiography Keeping Quiet recalled what happened. "In the corner, splayed out on his back on a physio's bench was Freddie. The big man looked barely conscious. He was wearing a vest and shorts, and his lower legs were covered in sand. There was a pervading smell of Jack Daniel's and cola in the air. A few of the lads glanced at Freddie and winced. He remained flat-out during the whole dressing-down, occasionally lifting his head with one eye half-open. Later, at another meeting, Freddie, now upright, apologised for his behaviour."
By that stage the press was all over the story and were gleefully reporting the lurid details. The headline writers were in full flow. The Sunday Mirror led with "Flintoff in Caribbean Booze Cruise", while the News of the World went with "Sunk'n'drunk".
The ECB rather farcically tried to keep a lid on the issue, admitting that a "number of players had been fined for a breach of team discipline", while refusing to name them or go into any details. The media showed no such restraint, naming and shaming them all and printing the full story. The News of the World said that "[Flintoff] grabbed a pedalo from a beach after an eight-hour bender… he dragged it out to sea and was seen rocking it from side to side before it capsized."
It appeared that the press had been alerted to the players' antics by disgruntled supporters. In the Times, Christopher Martin-Jenkins wrote that he had been made aware by fans of players indulging in late-night drinking sessions in Australia, although Nixon said Fletcher had asked the hotel staff to log the times the players returned to their rooms.
Flintoff was stripped of the vice-captaincy and dropped for the Canada match, and at a press conference Fletcher was clearly at the end of his tether. "[Flintoff] has been given warnings about his conduct and disciplined for previous incidents of this nature. He has been made fully aware of the team management's concerns and the fact that the ECB considers this type of behaviour to be totally unacceptable."
Flintoff also had to face the press to apologise, but he said that ordeal was not as bad as the moments before it started. "It was a real low point. I had this press conference and walked across the hotel reception and the England fans, who were only months previously cheering my name and high-fiving me, were shaking their heads. I couldn't make eye contact with them, and I thought: 'This isn't good.'"
If the ECB hoped it had drawn a line under the issue, it was wrong. "The negative publicity that surrounded the team that week, with camera phone pictures being sold to newspapers, sounded the final death knell for what was already a futile bid to win the World Cup," Andrew Strauss said. "We performed pitifully in every respect throughout the tournament."
England beat Canada and then Kenya to limp into the Super Eights, where they beat Ireland and Bangladesh but suffered heavy defeats at the hands of South Africa and Australia and a two-run loss to Sri Lanka. Although they beat West Indies in their final game, by that stage both sides were eliminated.
What happened next
- Paul Nixon, Jimmy Anderson, Liam Plunkett, Ian Bell and Jon Lewis were also fined for breaking the team curfew.
- Duncan Fletcher resigned on the eve of England's final game. Later in the year he published an autobiography in which he detailed the problems he had with Flintoff that winter, for which he was criticised. "People have turned round and said, 'Should I have brought it up?'," he said in his defence. "You had a situation where an incident took place and rightly or wrongly I kept it in-house, then in three or four weeks' time we had a similar affair. I just thought it was important it was brought out in the open. If the pedalo affair hadn't happened I wouldn't have revealed it [the story of England's abandoned practice in Australia]. Having had a chat with him, if nothing had happened, I definitely wouldn't have revealed it. But they were so directly linked I was taken aback by it: enough is enough sort of thing."
- Flintoff returned to England colours after his ban and retired after helping them regain the Ashes in 2009. He made a T20 comeback in 2014. In 2012 he admitted that he had suffered in his playing days from depression which had driven him to drink. He said the biggest regret about the pedalo incident was the effect on his family. "A lot of people saw it as a bit of fun, but I don't want my kids going to school and hearing about their dad being in the paper after getting drunk on a pedalo. Like any parent, I want my kids to grow up proud of what I've achieved. I don't want people taking the mickey out of them because of what I've done."
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