Sport on TV: Right hook, said Fred. But where are his real 'friends'?
Sunday 25 November 2012
Andrew Flintoff seems to be looking for someone to knock some sense into him. From Lord's to the Ring (Sky 1, Thursday) documents his attempt to become a professional boxer, so at least the man who delivered bouncers at Aussie helmet badges can look forward to a career as another kind of bouncer if it all goes bottoms up.
As his mentor Barry McGuigan points out: "It's a different kind of courage than you need on the cricket field." He will also need to lose what the narrator Rafe Spall calls his "happy-go-lucky persona" and stop being so damned friendly and sportsmanlike.
Flintoff finds his tough new regime does bring out his dark side: bullied at school for wanting to play cricket instead of trying to "nick cars and take drugs"; then bullied by the media because of his weight to the point that he routinely made himself throw up after every meal. He is fighting his demons to such an extent that we might conclude this is not just another publicity campaign.
But you have to wonder how many of those around him are keeping a sense of perspective, even if the process is giving Flintoff plenty of insights into himself. It's all too reminiscent of another of the North-west's hard-partying sports heroes on an ill-advised comeback trail, Ricky Hatton.
"His friends may think he's crazy but this is no stunt," we are told, yet the fact that all Flintoff's friends are celebrities rather confuses the issue. At the start of his 18-week odyssey we hear: "Injury cut his career as a professional cricketer tragically short." Now anyone who thinks that is a proper "tragedy" deserves a punch on the nose.
Presumably some of his "friends" tried to dissuade him from trying to make it in the fight game. "He's got more chance of winning if he was to box against me," says Geoffrey Boycott, though he's not one to talk about throwing punches. Flintoff's co-star on A League of Their Own, Jamie Redknapp, would prefer to "eat his own hand" than try boxing. At least that would keep him quiet for a while. Still, are you sure we can't change your mind, Jamie?
As always, you cannot fault Flintoff's determination. But that very single-mindedness could be as much a problem as a quality. It was Flintoff's body that told him to stop playing cricket before he literally ran himself into the ground. It took a while for his head to listen.
"This is really a blank canvas," says his trainer, McGuigan's son Shane. But it isn't; there is a long back story here. Flintoff is 34, not a teenager. There might well be a rather large, Flintoff-shaped thing spreadeagled across that canvas after his fight on Friday night.
* Flintoff's Lancashire colleague Mike Atherton is the only Sky Sports pundit on the ground in India for the Test series. The lads back in the studio check in with him for reports at the close of play, or if he's busy they chat to Sourav Ganguly, who works for the host broadcaster.
Ganguly played with Flintoff and Atherton at Old Trafford, and the latter said it was like having Prince Charles in your team. Legend has it that Ganguly once asked Atherton to run off the field and fetch his sweater for him. Now that Athers is some way down the broadcasting pecking order if not the batting order, perhaps he might like a pair of boxing gloves too.
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