Saturday, August 29, 2009

Farewell Freddie, We Hardly Knew Ya

With the Ashes urn firmly in keep, Andrew Flintoff bowed out of test cricket this week a happy man.

It was a much happier end for Flintoff than the last time he faced Australia, a 5-0 drubbing Down Under in 2007 that took the gloss off England’s glorious 2005 triumph.

From a statistical point of view, Flintoff's final test won't be remembered as one of his best. He scored a total of 29 runs from two innings, and his only wicket for the match was that of Australian No. 11 Ben Hilfenhaus.

Still, he made a monumental contribution during Australia’s second innings. With Australia on course for an unlikely victory, Flintoff stepped up and gunned down Australian skipper Ricky Ponting with a magical piece of fielding.

It swung the match and series firmly back into England’s favour and it was Flintoff's last moment of significance in test cricket.

This Ashes series summed up much of Flintoff's career. A booze-related incident at the start of the series, followed by flashes of brilliance during it.

His innings in the third test at Edgbaston, when he scored 74 runs from 79 balls, 46 of which came in boundaries, was his best individual effort with the bat, but his run out of Ponting during the final test at The Oval was the decisive moment.

It was a powerful way for Flintoff to sign off and it showed just how important he is not only to England, but to the test cricketing world.

He’s a crowd pleaser and one who fans everywhere are happy to pay to watch.

Flintoff’s final test won't be remembered like his effort at Edgbaston in 2005 will be, when he bulldozed his way past Australia. That match had many magical moments, but it was his devastating spell during Australia's second innings when he removed both Justin Langer and Ricky Ponting within four ferocious deliveries of each other that singlehandedly restored England’s chances of winning the Ashes.

It was one of the most hostile spells of fast bowling and anyone who watched it will remember it forever. It was Freddie at his best and when he bowled like that, he was as good as anyone.

Unfortunately, there just weren't enough spells like it.

That 2005 series was Flintoff’s Mount Everest, but he'd been trudging his way down ever since.

As good as Freddie was for England over his 11-year test career, there is still a feeling he left the test cricket world too early and also left it short-changed.

It's said that a good entertainer should always leave the crowd salivating for more and to that end he delivered, but with Only five test centuries and an average of just over 31 runs from 130 innings doesn’t elevate him into the category of master batsmen, especially when his bowling average was a tick under 33 runs per wicket. It could be said that what he gave with the bat, he lost with the ball. That might be a harsh assessment, but statistically, he underperformed with both the bat and ball.

After his heroics of ’05, Flintoff struggled to deal with expectations. Too often, in times of need, he turned to alcohol to help him deal with the pressure and burden of being England’s leader. Every man has a weakness and Flintoff was no different. His additional fault was that he didn’t possess the discipline to seek help or to walk away.

It affected his judgment and his career.

When England needed him focused more than ever as they sought to retain the Ashes in Australia in 2006-07, in the lead up, Flintoff found himself talking more about his boozing than his bowling. Even then-manager Duncan Fletcher turned on Flintoff, and England’s Ashes defense was in tatters.

Perhaps part of the reason for Flintoff’s popularity was that he wasn’t a textbook cricketer. He played on feel, instinct and heart. He could electrify his team and the fans, but also he could electrocute himself.

Maybe Flintoff was a cricketer from the wrong time. In the modern era of athlete that is programmed to watch what they eat and drink, Freddie was never one to shy away from tucking into a good meal rounded off by a not-so-quiet drink.

It meant he was always fighting himself, waging a war he couldn't win. His frame and size always made him susceptible to injury. The fact the 79 tests he played in was barely half the amount England played in since Flintoff made his debut in 1998 against South Africa proves he didn't take great care of himself.

So while it all ended too soon, all we are left to say to Freddie is good luck and thanks for the memories

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