The Tale Of Super Fred

As Andrew Flintoff announces his retirement from all cricket, TWC look back to a feature from the September 2009 issue on the announcement of his retirement from Test cricket

At Lord’s, on the eve of his most inspirational performance in four years, Andrew Flintoff announced he would retire from Test cricket at the end of the series. He always had a sense of theatre. In celebration of England’s greatest current star this is Flintoff’s story as told by the archives of The Wisden Cricketer and Wisden Cricket Monthly
As a talented but raw allrounder Flintoff has a quiet start to his Test career against South Africa at Trent Bridge – he doesn’t even have a nickname

Andy Flintoff
Did all that could have been expected of such an inexperienced seamer and appeared confident at first slip. An artless innings of booming drives at pitched-up balls and missed hooks at short ones. 4 out of 10
Scyld Berry, Wisden Cricket Monthly (WCM), September 1998

Can comfort himself with the knowledge that Gooch bagged a pair on this ground on his debut. After two Tests he can now return to his apprentice’s workbench acutely aware of the chasm between county and Test cricket. Bowling no more than stock. What happens next is up to him.
Andrew Longmore, WCM, September 1998

He earns himself a trip to South Africa but gets injured. The following summer Flintoff’s physique and attitude come under scrutiny, although it doesn’t stop him winning one-day matches – this one against Zimbabwe at Old Trafford

A series of back injuries had led to questions about his commitment and physique. Headlines about the weight of expectation abounded. He tucked into Strang, launching two sixes – one a beefy blow over cow corner.
Lawrence Booth, WCM, September 2000

Winter tours to India and New Zealand see a lean and hungry Flintoff, after a dressing down from his closest advisors, start to fulfil that talent

This [India one-day] series might prove to be the one where Flintoff turned the corner towards his natural place in the game’s sunny uplands. One-day matches and series tend not to stay in the memory – even the close ones – but an abiding image of this series will be Flintoff bowling Javagal Srinath with the fifth ball of the last over of the final game, ripping off his shirt and careering round the field swirling it above his head.
Stephen Brenkley, WCM, March 2002

Flintoff arrived in New Zealand in February with a lot on his mind. For a man who describes himself as a ‘batter who bowls’, scoring 26 runs [in India] in five innings hurt him deeply. “I’m not a nervy cricketer but there were times, when I was waiting to go out to bat, that I really felt the pressure mounting. There were times in India when I got quite upset, feeling I’d let people down.” A 14-ball duck (his third in four Test innings) in the first innings of the first Test at Christchurch served only to feed the paranoia. From that point things could only get better. In the second innings, against a depleted attack, they did. His maiden Test hundred restored belief to himself and to his legion of fans to whom he was, once again, “Super Fred, Super Freddie Flintoff” … Nasser Hussain said: “He’s done everything that’s been asked of him but he knows that he’s got a lot of things to work on.”
John Stern, WCM, May 2002

But a hernia operation that summer and a fateful trip down under where he fails to regain full fitness and doesn’t play a Test stall this improvement. Then in summer 2003 everything starts to click

As the match ended the feeling grew that it would not be long before pundits would be asking who on earth the new Flintoff might be. Which makes a wonderful change from the usual question on allrounders that has dogged English cricket for a decade. Enjoy this one while he lasts.
Stephen Brenkley, The Wisden Cricketer (TWC), October 2003 after Flintoff’s 95 at The Oval

Anyone who has watched an Andrew Flintoff net session will know what the fuss is about. He hits the ball harder than anyone I have seen. By the end bowlers are refusing to bowl for fear of getting hit on their follow-through, coaches are irate because they are running out of precious net balls and Phil Neale, who organises the nets, is getting twitchy because Flintoff will soon be wanting throw-downs from 15 yards. He is huge. People like the way he walks out to the crease, sticking his chest out, exchanging a few choice words with the opposition. There is an air of the village green to which people can relate.
Nasser Hussain, TWC, November 2003

To gain those five-wicket hauls Flintoff’s bowling needs to develop more craft and it is essential for him to deliver more balls on a fuller length to draw the batsman forward. Seeing the ball fly over the batsman’s shoulder and through to the keeper, who has to take it over his head, looks good but will not bring wickets unless it is followed by a number of balls that threaten the stumps and the outside edge.
Angus Fraser, TWC, November 2003

In 2004 Flintoff and England start a period of success that culminates in the 2005 Ashes victory

Neither the [four] wickets nor his swashbuckling second-innings 58 seemed to give him half as much pleasure as his involvement in Tino Best’s bizarre second innings dismissal. As soon as Best marked his guard, Flintoff, from slip, was heard through the stump microphone challenging him to “mind the windows”. Twice Best tried to oblige with heaves at Giles. The second time he was so far out of his ground Geraint Jones made the stumping.
Tony Cozier, after England win at Lord’s, TWC, Sept 2004

Marcus Trescothick scored two typically bulldozing centuries and still managed to bat in Andrew Flintoff’s shadow. Big Freddie boomed away to the content of everybody’s hearts and his seven sixes made a nonsense of the slowness of the pitch. The biggest climbed like a rocket towards the hands of his father sitting in the second tier of the Ryder Stand. Much to son’s leg-pulling delight later, it exploded out of them.
Stephen Brenkley, after Flintoff’s hundred at Edgbaston, TWC, September 2004

In TWC’s A-to-Z of the year F could stand for only one thing

F is for Freddie
England’s star: the stadium-filler. My favourite Flintoff moment was actually in 2003, during a day-night match at Edgbaston. Fielding at gully he leapt to take an extraordinary one-handed catch to dismiss Jacques Kallis and landed with a mighty clump. The earth shook and tremors were recorded in Stoke. It was the first time I had experienced the sheer wave of joy that a Flintoff moment unleashes in a large crowd. To think that only a few years ago we were talking of him as the new Botham. What, the miserable old bloke in the Sky Sports commentary box telling us how much better it was in his day? Freddie isn’t the new Botham. Botham is the new Freddie (Trueman).
Marcus Berkmann, TWC, January 2005

Next, Australia here in 2005 and, after some ankle surgery and rest, Flintoff’s finest hour. The first Test lost, Edgbaston won – in high drama

Super Fred
[Flintoff] had done serious bowling before but this was the first Test in which he scored substantial runs against the best: 141 off 148 balls … The damage Flintoff did with his hitting (nine sixes in the match was an Ashes record) can be quantified fully only at the end of the series. But at the time it seemed possible that his hitting had finished the careers of Jason Gillespie or Mike Kasprowicz, or both.
Scyld Berry, TWC, September 2005

Australia were 47 for 0, almost a fifth of the way to their target of 282. Langer kept out the first ball of Flintoff’s seminal over but the second bowled him off his arm. Enter Ricky Ponting. The third and fifth balls nipped back sharply into his pads. Both were narrow lbw not-outs but Ponting could feel the hound’s hot breath. He was harried by the fourth and the sixth, a no-ball. The seventh had to be played but it lifted, left him and took the edge. Best batsman gone: match transformed.
Christopher Martin-Jenkins, TWC, October 2005

Andrew Flintoff and Geraint Jones did for England’s sixth wicket what Adam Gilchrist has been doing for Australia for years. Together they added 177 in 39 overs and, as the score ticked towards 400, England’s Ashes challenge was fuelled by certainty for perhaps the first time in the series … Then, having flicked Warne off his pads to bring up his maiden Ashes century, Flintoff lapped up the acclaim with the coolest, most understated celebrations since Jim Laker’s 19-wicket haul.
Andrew Miller, Trent Bridge Test, TWC, October 2005

Warne and Flintoff each produced a superhuman effort that kept his side in the match. Flintoff’s five-for, only his third in professional cricket, sealed his transformation from fat lad to fully rounded fast bowler. The difference between them was that Flintoff had better support.
Tim de Lisle, The Oval Test, TWC, October 2005

According to the results of our readers’ poll, Flintoff is better than Beefy. We asked you: “If both were playing at their peak, who would you rather have in the England Test side?” It was a close-run thing but Flintoff edged it, with 49.4% against Botham’s 48.2%. By the end of the Ashes Freddie’s Test batting average topped his bowling average for the first time.
Readers’ poll, TWC, December 2005

And Flintoff maintains that Midas touch through the winter, now captaining England to an improbable series-levelling Test victory at Mumbai

He arrived in India the world’s leading allrounder but neither he nor anyone else was sure that he could score runs there. He left India with his reputation enhanced, if that is possible. Having latched on to the curve-ball of captaincy with relish, Flintoff set about proving a point – to himself as much as anyone. And with 264 runs at 52.80 including four fifties, 11 wickets at 30.54 and the man-of-the-series award, it is undeniably a point well made. He said he was disappointed not to have made a hundred. We’ll let him off.
Marks out of 10: Flintoff 10 Two fifties, four wickets, immeasurable inspiration.
John Stern, Mumbai Test, TWC, May 2006

But doubts and fears for his mortality grow as England fail to finish off Sri Lanka at Lord’s

England, on the other hand, had just Flintoff to provide a cutting edge, which he did to thrilling effect with a three-wicket burst in Sri Lanka’s first innings. By the third day, however, he was struggling. Scans on his troublesome left ankle revealed bone fragments in the area where he underwent surgery ahead of the Ashes and, as he went lame, so too did England’s attack.
Andrew Miller, TWC, July 2006

And that is that – the end of the golden period. From returning in 2003 after a hernia operation to the removal of bone fragments from his ankle in 2006 Flintoff has been consistently world-class with bat and ball. His statistics in that period prove it:
m    R    Avge    100s    W    Avge    5w
Tests    41    2484    40.06     4    153     27.91    2
ODIs    56    1827    42.48    3     74     23.95    0

He manages to get fit for the 2006-07 Ashes series but things down under do not go according to plan …

Verdict after 2nd Test defeat at Adelaide
Marks out of 10: Flintoff 8 The warrior-king can do most things except make runs – and win games.
Matthew Engel, TWC, January 2007

Verdict after 4th Test defeat at Melbourne
Marks out of 10: Flintoff 5 Still has Australia’s respect as a bowler not as a captain.
Gideon Haigh, TWC, February 2007

A midsummer editorial sums up what Flintoff means to England

It is wretched to see Fred sidelined. England are half the team without him, not simply in terms of effectiveness but more in terms of their swagger, their personality. They are a much more fun team with Fred … One solution is for him to concentrate on limited-overs cricket for England. It will be an unpalatable idea, not least for Flintoff himself.
John Stern, TWC, July 2007

Despite flashes of brilliance and inspiration – ask Jacques Kallis after the Edgbaston Test last year – fitness has led to an in-out England existence

[The] 2009 Ashes series [offers] the opportunity for both a repeat of his 2005 heroics and redemption for all that has gone wrong since.
Andy Wilson, TWC, June 2008

Perhaps this is now the best-case scenario. Flintoff takes time out this winter [2007-08] to get his ankle properly sorted before building up his form for the rematch with Australia, whom he destroys with short, incisive spells with the ball and lengthier assaults with the bat. He then retires from Test cricket, aged 31, but continues to play one-day cricket until 2011, when he helps England win the World Cup. He then retires to spend time at home with his young family and in the commentary box alongside Botham as a fellow knight.
Simon Wilde, TWC, November 2007

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