Freelance Fred opts to chase game's riches
Andrew Flintoff's decision to turn down England's offer of a one-day contract opens the door for other players to follow suit
Andrew Flintoff last night became the world's first freelance cricketer by declining England's offer of a contract. His decision to spurn the one-year deal may also be interpreted in some places as mercenary, although it seems likely that Flintoff is merely a trailblazer.
It will give him the freedom to play where and when he wants in the next year and he intends to take full advantage of it. Although he is determined to continue playing one-day cricket for England he equally has no intention of having his career planned for him.
The scope for dressing room disharmony is clear. Flintoff will be seen as a man apart by others in the England dressing room even if he is there. Nor is it a move designed to foster goodwill among England followers.
Flintoff, speaking from Dubai where he is recovering from his latest knee operation, said: "I was flattered to receive the offer of an incremental contract from the ECB, which I wasn't really expecting, but at this stage of my career I don't think I need to be told when to play and when to rest. I am 31, I have played international cricket for 11 years and know my body's capabilities."
Effectively, he has turned down around £30,000 which the contract is thought to be worth. Considering that his deal in the Indian Premier League alone is for $1.55m (£940,000) a year he may have thought the calculated risk is worth every penny. He is also thought to be considering playing for Twenty20 franchises in Australia, South Africa and the West Indies. Australia are putting large amounts of money into their revamped domestic T20 series to be called the Big Bash and a player of Flintoff's talents is bound to be a draw.
The England and Wales Cricket Board appeared nonplussed by Flintoff's rejection. He was one of seven players offered second tier increment contracts last week, having made himself ineligible for a much more lucrative central contract following his retirement from Test cricket.
An ECB spokesman said: "We have read Andrew Flintoff's statement and obviously there is a lot to digest in it for the ECB. Therefore we won't be commenting further until we have considered it."
But they were obviously perplexed. The acceptance of an increment contract does not make a player an ECB employee (as a central contract does) but they are offered guidance and advice about how often they should play.
Flintoff said: "I am grateful to the ECB for all the financial support they have given me to help in my rehabilitation. I have moved to Dubai because I believe it will help in that and their decision to pay for Dave Roberts' continued expertise to aid my recovery has been invaluable." How long they do so, of course, must be doubtful. Although the ECB declined to speculate last night it is unthinkable that they will foot the treatment bills of a player who has spurned them so publicly.
Flintoff is entitled to play where he wants, of course, though his protestations that he wants to become the best one-day player in the world – an aspiration he has often repeated since he quit Test cricket – begin to sound hollow.
"One of the things I want to pursue more than anything is playing in different worldwide locations," he said. "I've been very lucky playing for England for the past 11 years and I've sampled different countries, but I've always wanted the opportunity to play more in these places, get to know them and the way they go about their cricket.
"I said when I retired from Test cricket that my ambition was to become the best one-day and Twenty20 player in the world and playing in all these different countries can only help."
Flintoff insisted that he remains committed to playing for both England and Lancashire but somewhere down the line there will be a conflict. He has had four ankle and two knee operations in the past few years – his rehabilitation in Dubai follows recent arthroscopy on the right knee which so debilitated him in the summer's Ashes series – and the ECB may suppose he should watch his workload.
There is no suggestion of other refusals among the other players offered contracts last week. But the consensus among former professionals last night was that if Flintoff does it others too will follow the money.
Short-form Freddie: Flintoff's T20 record
England matches only:
Highest score 31
Batting average 12.66
Runs conceded 161
Best bowling 2-23
Bowling average 32.2
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