The Reuters global sports blog
Andrew Flintoff’s decision to forego a contract with England and set himself up as an elite cricket freelancer has provoked a fair amount of grumbling in the media, with words like “mercenary” and “snub” being bandied about all over the place.
But whether you consider Flintoff’s decision ungrateful or not, consider for a moment whether it might not work out to England’s advantage.
As others have said, there’s nothing really new in Flintoff’s decision to go it alone. Other cricketers have made themselves available as players for hire in different parts of the world over a season.
The difference here is that Flintoff has made it clear that he is still available to play for his country at one-day international and Twenty20 level … and looking at the country’s recent results, how they need him.
Derek Pringle, David Capel and Phil DeFreitas were hailed as potential successors while the all-rounder was still playing in the 1980s. The unsought weight of expectation then fell on Chris Lewis and Dominic Cork.
In the wake of England’s Ashes triumph over Australia, a huge question awaits…can England find a replacement for Andrew Flintoff?
He has been the scourge of the opposition for so long. His importance was underlined in this series where despite being half-fit he managed to knock over the tourists at Lord’s to claim five wickets and even ran out Australian captain Ricky Ponting at the Oval (which he said on Monday was probably the first time he’s ever run somebody out).
England have regained the Ashes after beating Australia by 197 runs at the Oval to seal a 2-1 series victory.
How important was Andrew Flintoff’s run out of Ricky Ponting when the Australia captain looked well set? Flintoff did little with bat or ball in his last test before retiring but still made sure he grabbed the headlines.
Andrew Strauss had a bad start to his day when he and his team mates were evacuated from their hotel at 5 o’clock in the morning because of a fire alarm. Unfortunately, that was just the start of a black Friday for the England captain.After days of assessing the fitness of Andrew Flintoff, Strauss and coach Andy Flower finally decided that the inspirational all-rounder could not be risked in a five-day match and it was announced that he was ruled out of the fourth Ashes test.
Strauss took part in a game of soccer on the Headingley outfield and watched in horror as wicketkeeper Matt Prior collapsed with a back spasm before retiring gingerly to the dressing-room for treatment.
In the end it wasn’t about the two S’s, Swann and swing, it came down to the two P’s, patience and perseverance, as Australia’s batsmen swept away England hopes of a 2-0 Ashes series lead by holding on for a draw at Edgbaston. The challenge for Australia and their batting line-up now is to perform like that in the first innings of a test to put pressure on England, and not just in the second when they need to save a game.
This match didn’t get the denouement it deserved after the thrilling cricket played on Friday and Sunday, but mother nature can hold up her hand and take the blame for that. Just one more day’s play could have provided an intriguing finish, but it wasn’t to be.
A stunning day’s Test cricket, wasn’t it? If there was ever any doubt over the status of the longest form of the game then Sunday’s play will have washed away concerns.
You simply don’t get this sort of story told, with its twists and turns, at a Twenty20 match or a 50-over game for that matter. It had everything; wickets, runs, hostility, sledging and a dramatic finale that leaves a positive result to this rain interrupted Test match still possible.
A stunning spell by Andrew Flintoff saw Australia’s last five wickets tumble for just 93 runs as the tourists came under an intense barrage of brutal deliveries from England’s retiring talisman, who secured his side their first test victory over Australia at Lord’s since 1934 by 115 runs.
If anybody ever questioned what England would be missing once Flintoff retires at the end of this series, they got their answer in spades as Lancashire’s finest bowled unchanged for nine overs from the Pavilion End, returning figures of 3 for 33, and completing his first five-wicket haul in an innings for four years.
I’m still unsure as to whether England’s first innings total of 425 is a good score on what is essentially still a flat Lord’s track, but with Australia 156 for 8 at the close of play on the second the home side can be proud of their efforts so far.
Australia took just 11 overs of the morning session on day two to polish off England’s tail, as Andrew Strauss, unbeaten on 161 overnight, Graeme Swann and Stuart Broad, provided little resistance to some good swing bowling by Ben Hilfenhaus.
There is no doubt England will miss Andrew Flintoff’s never-say-die attitude, enthusiasm and willpower he brings to the dressing room, but the team could end up being more settled following his test retirement after the Ashes.
Management will no longer have to ponder the “what if he is available?” conundrum.