Not since Ian Botham has a cricketer so captured the public imagination as Andrew Flintoff has these past few years. Flintoff’s appeal comes from the fact that he brings the game of the village green to the Test match arena. He plays the sport as all those of us who have put on whites would like to. He bats with uncomplicated power, bowls with pace and turns matches through the force of his personality.
He has played as hard off the field as he has on it. But there is something very English about his excess: more booze than bling. Few other sportsmen could have charmed the nation by turning up to Downing Street visibly drunk as he did after England won the Ashes in 2005.
If truth be told, Flintoff is not a great player. His averages — 32 with the bat and 33 with the ball — are average. But he did have one summer of greatness and that coincided with England winning back the Ashes after eight Australian triumphs in a row in one of the great Test series of all time. Well-timed indeed.
This summer, Flintoff has urged his battered body to repeat those heroics and to wipe away the memory of the return series in Australia where he captained England to a 5-0 defeat and disgraced himself with his ill-discipline. At Lords he powered England to victory with one of the finest displays of fast bowling you’ll ever see despite a knee that could hardly bear the strain. But injury was not going to be allowed to stand between him and communion with his public. In the next match, he paid the price for this and was unthreatening with the ball. But he bashed some boundaries to make up for it. He was deemed unfit for the most recent match and England promptly wilted. The spirit seemed to have gone out of the side.
So, with the series and the Ashes at stake the stage is set for one final Flintoff hurrah. He might not be a true great of the game, but he could yet be a legend of it.