Flintoff wins acclaim as world's leading player after year of all-round brilliance

England's stand-in captain adds Wisden's highest accolade to his impressive list of successes. Angus Fraser reports
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The Independent Online

No wonder Andrew Flintoff is weary. His broad shoulders not only carry the cricketing hopes of a nation, they also bear the weight of an ever growing list of sporting accolades. In September Flintoff led England to Ashes success, a feat which resulted in him being given the freedom of his home town, Preston, in December he was voted the BBC Sports Personality of the Year for 2005, and in the Queen's New Year's honours list he was awarded the MBE for his services to cricket.

And yesterday, in the 143rd edition of the Wisden Almanack, Flintoff received another gong when he was named as the Leading Cricketer in the World for 2005. In Test cricket in 2005 the all-rounder took 48 wickets and scored 534 runs, but it was the pivotal role he played in England regaining the Ashes, and the manner in which he conducted himself throughout an absorbing series that turned him into a national treasure. Flintoff fought off a close challenge from Shane Warne, whose smiling face he shares the cover of Wisden with, and Ricky Ponting, the Australian captain.

Flintoff was not the only member of the England side to receive an award from Wisden in a year that was dominated by the unforgettable battle for cricket's most prized possession. Matthew Hoggard, Simon Jones and Kevin Pietersen were among the five cricketers of the year, where they were joined by the Australian pairing of Brett Lee and Ponting.

"It's fantastic news," said a delighted Pietersen on the eve of this morning's sixth one-day international against India in Jamshedpur. "It is very satisfying to be rewarded for the success you have on the cricket field. Freddie richly deserves his award and it is great to have Simon and Hoggy there with me too." This year's awards now mean that nine members of England's Ashes winning squad have received the honour of being named a 'cricketer of the year.' Ian Bell, Geraint Jones and Paul Collingwood better get their fingers out.

"Having so many players named in the last two years highlights the strength of English cricket," said Pietersen. "All we have to do now is get us all on the park together and start winning games for England again."

"I'm pleased to have been given the award," Flintoff said. "It's very humbling and obviously a great honour. The last 12 months have been fantastic for English cricket, and I'm looking forward to building on that success."

Flintoff's rise to the summit of world cricket has been progressive and controlled, whereas Pietersen's transformation into one of the most recognisable figures in the game has resembled Superman entering a phone booth. He equalled Sir Viv Richards' record of needing only 21 one-day innings to reach 1,000 runs. Pietersen plays a brand of cricket that woos fans, and the challenge for him is to sustain the scintillating form he has shown in the past 18 months.

"Everything has happened very quickly," he admitted. "It is now up to me to make sure that I keep everything going, tune in to what I am doing and work as hard as I have in the past. Hopefully then I can remain consistent and gain further recognition by being successful with England.

"I know people's expectations of me have risen and I have set a pretty high standard but hopefully I can live up to them. My life has changed in the last eight months and I have become someone I never thought I would become. I am in the limelight and every part of my life is being scrutinised to the absolute millionth.

"But the things I do off the field will not distract me from my cricket. Cricket is something I love. It is my job, it is my hobby, and it is something I have wanted to do all my life. Nothing will ever keep me away from training hard and working at my game."

The England coach, Duncan Fletcher, is already planning anti-fatigue breaks for the core of the side - Flintoff is likely to miss one of the two remaining one day games in India. But Pietersen, whose workload is considerably less, is keen not to sit out.

"Rest is justified sometimes. But I know I have to get through 200 overs and I get a break," he said. "I hated the fact I was as sick as I was in Goa - watching it on television killed me. I hate it when I know I could be playing. I like to keep batting and getting in a flow - and when I am in the flow I don't like to stop."

Pietersen's production stream has been England's main source of runs in this series, but the fact he has not hit a hundred on the trip irks him. "It has not been a case of chucking my wicket away," he said. "It is just one of those things that happens in cricket."

* The Wisden Cricketers' Almanack will be published in two formats for the first time in its history today. As well as the traditional sized book, costing £38, a larger limited-edition version will also be available, costing £50 and being individually numbered from 1-5,000.

Five cricketers of the year

SELECTED BY WISDEN

Kevin Pietersen (England)

Simon Jones (England)

Matthew Hoggard (England)

Ricky Ponting (Australia)

Brett Lee (Australia)

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