December 06, 1977, Preston, Lancashire
Right hand Bat
Right arm Fast medium
Ribbleton Hall High school
Future generations might look at Andrew Flintoff's career figures and wonder what all the fuss was about. In Tests he averaged 31 with bat, and 32 with ball. For all the talk of fearsome fast bowling, only three five-fors featured among his 226 wickets. His one-day figures were good without being outstanding, and his Lancashire ones nothing special. But what the stats don't show is his presence, and the uplifting effect that Flintoff at his finest had on his team-mates, and crowds. The game treasures few things more than an all-action allrounder. Flintoff became one of English cricket's iconic figures and his presence helped to gain the game popularity as the new century developed.
"Freddie" was selected for England in 1998 as much on promise as performance, and underperformed at first, not helped by problems with weight and attitude. He was always a big man - 6ft 4ins and anywhere from 15-17 stone, depending on the recent calorie count - and the strain of juggernauting in and bowling at 90mph was inevitably a strain: his knees and ankles took multiple poundings from pitches and surgeons' scalpels.
He was always a correct, powerful batsman, sometimes hesitant against quality spin. His bowling was always wholehearted and occasionally magnificent, when he was probing away outside off with a hint of reverse swing at high pace. But it wasn't until the New Zealand tour early in 2002 that Flintoff finally scored a Test century or took more than four wickets in a match. He looked established at last - but then another injury kept him out of the 2002-03 Ashes, although he was fit enough for the World Cup that followed in South Africa, where he was the most economical bowler on view.
That kicked off Flintoff's golden period - three home seasons when he was at his princely peak. First there was 2003, when a six off Makhaya Ntini was still rising as it thudded into the Bedser Stand at The Oval. In 2004 he finally slipped the handbrake and bowled at his fastest - and also smacked a rollicking Test-best 167 against West Indies at Edgbaston, when one of his seven sixes was memorably dropped by his father in the stands. And then there was the crowning glory of 2005, when he bestrode the Ashes series and was undoubtedly the leading cricketer in the world, a fact acknowledged by Wisden. The photograph of him consoling Brett Lee after England narrowly beat Australia at Edgbaston became the photograph to capture one of the great Test series.
After that, his body started rebelling. To make matters worse he was subsequently horribly miscast as captain in Australia in 2006-07, sometimes looking forlorn as his team sunk to a 5-0 whitewash. Worse came when an embarrassing tumble from a pedalo in the Caribbean after a late-night drinking session, which was plastered all over the newspapers, was the lowest point of in an abortive World Cup challenge
He coaxed one last big effort out of those creaking joints in 2009, demolishing the Aussies at Lord's before, uncharacteristically grazing in the outfield rather than catching tracer bullets in the slips, he virtually ensured the return of the urn with the pinpoint run-out of Ricky Ponting at The Oval. And that, sadly, was just about that: the Oval Test was Flintoff's last serious outing on the cricket field. Bullish statements about a comeback to limited-overs cricket were a regular feature of the next 12 months before finally, in September 2010, came the doleful but increasingly inevitable announcement that the body couldn't take it. One of cricket's nearly-greats had gone.
But not quite gone, it turned out. Four years later, a period filled with TV reality shows, expeditions and derring do, he announced his comeback to T20s for Lancashire. Those who feared for him had no need. He stood up to the challenge and briefly threatened to cap his return in storybook fashion as Lancashire finished beaten finalists.
Batting & Fielding