Every one of England’s World Twenty20-winning team has bathed under showers of praise, and rightly so; there wasn’t a weak link between them. Each player is, for the time being, undroppable.
I wonder how Andrew Flintoff feels about that.
Who? You remember. Freddie. Man of the people. Cosy with Brett Lee. Not good with small boating devices. Once not bad for a fat lad, now rapidly becoming yesterday’s man.
Previously England’s bulldog, Flintoff is now wracking up massive vet bills and you have to wonder if England’s triumph may have finally, suddenly called closing time on his career. But since when has Flintoff been a man to take note of last orders?
It’s likely that he will have an eye on the World Cup in the subcontinent next February as an international swansong. But will he be needed?
There once was a time when a fit Fred would get into any team. Times have changed, teams have changed. England’s Twenty20 squad was built on power and guile. While Flintoff has plenty of power, he’s the kind of up-and-at-them bloke who thinks guile is a river in north Africa. While he’s on a par with Kieswetter, Morgan and Pietersen for sheer hitting ability, those three are far defter and far more attuned to gaps in the field. And while Flintoff can deliver yorkers and bouncers as effectively as Broad, Sidebottom and Bresnan he’s never been one to master intelligent variation, a must for Twenty20s.
For a player built on destruction and brutality, it’s ironic that Twenty20 simply isn’t Flintoff’s game. It’s impossible to overlook the roasting he got in last year’s IPL, before limping off with injury. Not only that but he hasn’t played an international in that format since September 2007. In that time, England’s new Flintoffs, Tim Bresnan and Luke Wright, have amassed 29 T20Is.
So that appears to be that for Flintoff’s short international Twenty20 career, but what about the ODI side? Flintoff is a superb one-day allrounder. His 3,394 runs at 32.01 and 169 wickets at 24.38 make him England’s best; but still 12 players have taken more wickets and scored more runs than him. There’s a real sense that injury has deprived England of one of the best one-day players of all time.
Even if he is fit in time for the World Cup, Wright (26 appearances) and Bresnan (17) have, again, had more experience in the last 24 months, with Flintoff having played 14 matches. There’s no question that, at his best, Flintoff is a better allrounder than Bresnan and, especially, Wright. Andy Flower knows this. It just depends on which he thinks is more relevant: ability and experience versus unity and the future.
Flower often talks of picking the side that’s best for English cricket, usually in reference to the number of South Africans in the side. Yet it has a deeper meaning than that – he’s happy to ruffle egos and convention to ensure he has a side that, as a unit rather than a collection of individuals, has the best chance of winning.
That said, Flower is also Mr Logical, Mr Pragmatic. If he doesn’t see a returning Flintoff as undermining the team unity – and only Flower will know this – then Freddie will get the swansong he’ll so crave. If there’s a danger he’ll be disruptive then it’s hello Strictly Come Dancing.
Daniel Brigham is assistant editor of The Wisden Cricketer
You can follow him on Twitter: WisdenCric_Dan