Freddie makes dreamers of the nation

At just 26, Flintoff is the talisman of his team and, Stephen Brenkley hears, there's even more to come

These are great days for Andrew Flintoff. They are not necessarily his greatest. Here he is at 26, England's most celebrated cricketer, a buccaneering all-rounder approaching the height of his thrilling powers in a promisingly resilient team. His girlfriend, Rachel, is expecting the couple's first child in October and he is awash with excitement. Last week, he became an author for the first time and he is proud of the coffee-table product. He still manages something of a social life.

Yet there is the sense that we ain't seen nothin' yet, that there is much more to come: runs, wickets, catches, books, the odd glass of red wine, and, if all goes really well, children. Flintoff has an engaging appetite for life that involves living it to the full. He could also sleep for England in between, a habit that may have to change come October.

It has been stirring to watch Freddie Flintoff from his earliest days. He was always a player who could possibly make things happen, but now the chances are that he probably will. His overall Test-match figures after 36 matches (batting average 29.55, bowling average 40.51) are still not much to write home to Preston about, but the significant fact is that in the 15 Tests since the beginning of last summer they have been the respectively respectable 44.64 and 35.03.

His ubiquitous nickname comes from the cartoon character, Flintstone of that ilk, so it is natural that he has become England's Bedrock - for non-aficionados the town where the original Freddie lived. "Every time I turn up at a cricket ground I'm looking forward to playing or practising," he said last week as he split his time typically between being captain of Lancashire in two Twenty20 matches, watching The Open at Troon, going on a book promotional tour and checking the wellbeing of the mother-to-be.

"Everything is going so well. I don't know how good I can be, but I'm only 26, and as a batter hopefully I won't reach my peak until I'm 30 or 31. I'm doing all right at the minute. My game has developed and I trust my technique. I've got areas that I'm strong in and areas where I leave the ball alone a lot more, so I'm a lot more aware. I have to work more on my bowling, but I think Troy Cooley [England's bowling coach] has helped. He just sits down and talks with us all. One-day cricket is fine because it's structured, you bowl your 10 overs and go for as few as you can, but I got into that trap in Test cricket as well. I now go with my gut feeling now and then, trying to take a wicket rather than just sitting back and bowling maidens."

But bowling of any kind would do at present. A spur on the heel of his landing foot is still troubling him. Originally, it forced him to withdraw from the recent one-day triangular tournament, but he came riding to England's rescue as a batsman only and scored consecutive centuries. He bowled in the first Twenty20 game but it was uncomfortable, and there is now the prospect that he might not be able to bowl in the Test series beginning on Thursday. It will unquestionably affect England in terms of balance and penetration.

This is a cloud on England's horizon (cirrus rather than nimbus for the moment), and it is a niggling worry that Flintoff will sometimes be unable to bowl. That is still a better prospect than three years ago, when it was seriously thought that his suspect back might preclude bowling completely. England may have to grow accustomed to his being unable to bowl occasionally, though it would be handy if one of those periods was not next year, when Australia visit and against whom he has yet to play a Test.

For what he calls "a split second" during the one-dayers he thought that cricket might be better without bowling. "I regard myself as a batter who bowls," he said. "Playing in the one-day games it was easier concentrating on one thing, but then I was stood on the boundary all day and the ball wasn't coming to me. I wanted to get involved in the game. It's all very well saying it's giving me a break, but you want a break because you're having a break, not because you're injured."

Sometimes it is still tempting to think of what Freddie could have become, and he is brave enough to remind us of it in his book, My Life In Pictures. Perhaps it is stretching the point to describe him as the author, for the text was written by the veteran BBC sports journalist Pat Murphy. Together they revisit the darker days when Freddie was overweight and drifting. Famously, a lecture in the Old Trafford dressing room from his agents, Chubby Chandler and Neil Fairbrother (also his former colleague), snapped him out of it.

"It was a bollocking and a turning point. I thought I was doing the right things and I wasn't. They told me a few home truths, and I walked out of that meeting thinking, 'Well, that's two blokes I'm close to and respect and if they're saying that they're pretty much right'." A settled home life must also take some credit. "Speak to Rachel and it's all down to her."

Flintoff is now England's fulcrum, batting at five and, if you like, bowling at four. The team have two resounding Test series wins behind them because a lot of players are playing well ("obvious but hard to achieve the right balance"). They are chums as well as colleagues.

"We're all playing for each other and the captain. You can see it's a race to the bowlers when we take a wicket and everybody on the balcony when a hundred or fifty is scored, genuinely pleased. I'm on the phone to the lads all the time. We like each other's company."

It is an imponderable of all sports teams, of course: does friendship provoke the winning or winning provoke friendship? Flintoff may be the fulcrum to that as well. But the feeling is impossible to dispel in the forthcoming series and ones to follow that if he touches greatness, then so might England.

Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvOnly remaining original cast-member to leave crime series
Frank Lampard and his non-celebration
premier leagueManchester City vs Chelsea match report from the Etihad Stadium
Esteban Cambiasso makes it 3-3
premier league
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Mario Balotelli celebrates his first Liverpool goal
premier leagueLiverpool striker expressed his opinion about the 5-3 thriller with Leicester - then this happened
people'I hated him during those times'
Britain's shadow chancellor Ed Balls (L) challenges reporter Rob Merrick for the ball during the Labour Party versus the media soccer match,
peopleReporter left bleeding after tackle from shadow Chancellor in annual political football match
Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says
tvSpoiler warning: Star of George RR Martin's hit series says viewers have 'not seen the last' of him/her
Dame Vivienne Westwood has been raging pretty much all of her life
peopleFirst memoir extracts show she 'felt pressured' into going out with the Sex Pistols manager
Arts and Entertainment
Lauryn Hill performing at the O2 Brixton Academy last night
musicSinger was more than 90 minutes late
Lewis Hamilton in action during the Singapore Grand Prix
Formula OneNico Rosberg retires after 14 laps
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: 'Time Heist' sees a darker side to Peter Capaldi's Doctor
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam