Andrew Flintoff has confirmed that he has rejected the offer of a one-day contract with the England & Wales Cricket Board, and will instead become the world's first freelance cricketer in a bid to maximize his considerable earning potential in the final years of his career.
Flintoff retired from Test cricket last month following England's Ashes victory at The Oval, meaning he no longer qualified for one of the ECB's full central contracts. He subsequently underwent a knee operation that will keep him on the sidelines for at least six months, but on Friday he was offered an incremental contract to cover his limited-overs appearances. The option of lucrative Twenty20 deals from the IPL and beyond, however, has proved too tempting to resist.
"One of the things I want to pursue more than anything is playing in different worldwide locations," he told andrewflintoff.com. "I've been very lucky playing for England for the past 11 years and I've sampled different countries, but I've always wanted the opportunity to play more in these places, get to know them and the way they go about their cricket.
"I said when I retired from Test cricket that my ambition was to become the best one-day and Twenty20 player in the world and playing in all these different countries can only help."
An ECB spokesman said that Flintoff's decision would require "careful consideration", and that the board would digest the news and respond in due course if required. When fit, Flintoff remains an integral part of England's limited-overs plans, and he himself has stated he wants to play until the 2015 World Cup.
But England coach Andy Flower had said his players could take part in only three weeks of the 45-day IPL next year if they toured Bangladesh in February and March, ahead of the ICC World Twenty20 in the Caribbean in May. That means Flintoff, the joint highest-paid player in the IPL along with Kevin Pietersen, would stand to lose about half of his US$1.55m fee by going to Bangladesh for what he had originally earmarked for his comeback series.
"I was flattered to receive the offer of an incremental contract from the ECB, which I wasn't really expecting, but at this stage of my career I don't think I need to be told when to play and when to rest," said Flintoff, who is currently in Dubai recovering from his knee surgery. "I am 31, I have played international cricket for 11 years and know my body's capabilities.
"I am grateful to the ECB for the all the financial support they have given me to help in my rehabilitation. I have moved to Dubai because I believe it will help in that and their decision to pay for Dave Roberts' continued expertise to aid my recovery has been invaluable."
Flintoff 's freelancing will follow the route expected to be taken by Australian allrounder, Andrew Symonds, who is also eyeing several Twenty20 opportunities around the world after his national career stalled due to disciplinary issues. It is understood that Flintoff has already received a No-Objection Certificate from the ECB, which will allow him to take part in a minimum of three weeks of IPL cricket per season.
That, however, could prove to be an awkward precedent for Flower, who had warned that players' workloads need to be managed and that participation in lucrative leagues like the IPL will continue to be an issue over the next few years. The amount of time England players were available for the 2009 IPL season had been a major sticking point between the ECB and the Indian board earlier this year before a compromise was reached.
"He'll play for Chennai [Super Kings in the IPL], he might play for an Australian team, a South African team, maybe one in the West Indies," Flintoff's manager, Andrew Chandler, told the Observer. "If he hadn't have been injured he would have probably played in December-January in Australia. And then at the end of January, early February in South Africa. I was already negotiating with them. We were negotiating with South Australia and the Durban team, the Nashua Dolphins. And there's been an offer from Northern Transvaal [Northerns] as well." While in Dubai, Flintoff also intends to help out with the UAE national squad.
Despite all the high-profile offers that can be expected to come his way, Flintoff is still keen to make an impact with his county side, Lancashire. "I enjoy playing under Peter Moores and Glen Chapple, our captain, is one of my best mates," he said. "I am desperate to help them achieve success at Old Trafford."
"Lancashire, as we have been throughout his entire career, are fully supportive of Fred's ambitions and we hope to see him play a leading role for us in our one day team's for years to come," said Lancashire's chief executive, Jim Cumbes. "To that end, we are currently in talks with Fred and his management team about a new contract which will help support his goals and the ambitions of Lancashire."