Cricket: Flintoff snarls to good effect

Iain Fletcher joins the players on a commercial break in training
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The Independent Online
THE LIFE of an international cricketer is not just an endless cycle of training, nets and sweaty kit. No sir, not in the modern world where television is king and image sells everything.

"Just left a little bit... that's it... away from the light... now look nasty... Scare me!" exhorted the director at Slazenger's television commercial shoot in a small warehouse on the outskirts of a wet and grey Manchester on Thursday. It does not sound glamorous, but the frenetic whirl of activity that surrounded Alec Stewart, Adam Hollioake and Andy Flintoff made them appear less like cricketers contemplating the biggest tournament of their lives and more like over-indulged Hollywood wannabes.

Training and practice have to take a back seat at these times but the players are well paid for endorsing equipment and so Sean Morris, cricket manager at Slazenger, had his charges for the day. "We need to do these adverts because we spend a lot of money on players so we need to get them recognised," Morris explained. "During the World Cup when interest in cricket should be massive, particularly if England do well, we are running a series of 10-second commercials on Sky TV. The cost is huge at pounds 126,000 for the shoot and the TV slots, but after last year's TV campaign our bat sales increased by 30 per cent so it is definitely worth doing it.

"Children watch TV so for us it is a great way to promote the game. Of course we are promoting ourselves as well but the sport and the companies that supply it are linked by necessity," Morris argued. "We are trying to take the stuffiness out of cricket and make it more edgy and glamorous but last year I had a call from the ECB politely mentioning that we had used their official emblem on the helmets used in the ads."

A weary shrug of the shoulders suggested irritation at the pettiness. "We are promoting our players and Slazenger equipment, but it still is promoting and raising the profile of cricket. Maybe the ECB could examine our success and possibly adapt it to benefit themselves."

It is a moot point, as the children of today have a surfeit of sporting and technical goodies to attract and distract them and aggressive marketing, particularly of heroes, can whip up great passion for sport. The effect of Brian Lara's double century in the last Test against Australia can be seen in the excitement surrounding the present match.

"Be aggressive to me... really sneer..." Strange words considering the director is small and rotund and he is addressing the 6ft 5in, 17st Flintoff, but this world is one of fantasy and sharp-suited PR women walking around in circles with serious intent, mobile phones fixed to ears and pointed fingers jabbing the air.

"He wanted me to look aggressive," Flintoff said of one shot, "but a make-up girl had powdered my nose and disguised my scar. I know we have to do this but it's a bit boring. I've spent months playing and training so when the director said, `Three, two, one, go', I nearly took off across the set."

Steve Hampson, the former Great Britain rugby league player and Flintoff's physical trainer, would be impressed with the dedication. And as for getting carried away with the "glamour" of a film shoot, Flintoff has a definite perspective. "Yesterday at the World Cup launch I met Joe Mangle from Neighbours; to be honest, he's up there as a hero."

And with that he was gone, snarling on command, not taking the day or himself too seriously and wondering how to tell his friends in Preston that he had worn make-up. Roll on the cricket where we can see these men in their own arena.