I turned up with Mark Butcher, the Surrey captain, and Ian Salisbury; Jeffrey Archer and Andrew Flintoff were also there. It was very busy with everyone wanting a piece of Flintoff. I didn't want to add to the crush but then he came over and said hello. He's the sort of bloke that, although he is the star, he makes other people feel special. That's why he is such a popular, genuine guy.
That night he had to leave early to go to the Vodafone England dinner where he was named Player of the Year. It was another sign of how far he's come since I walked back from the nets with him in 2002 in New Zealand. We he had a chat there and he couldn't get a run. He'd had a few noughts and a bad run in India beforehand. He seemed at the end of his tether and didn't know what to do, having tried various techniques. He then went out and lashed a hundred while Graham Thorpe got a double. He's not looked back since but he still does the small things.
For instance, in the winter I went to the launch of an Asian newspaper, Gujarat Samachar. The room was full of 200 people, mainly Asian. "Freddie" came along and it was chaos. All the time he ate his curry he had 20 people queuing up to see him. He was so patient. Every time he steps out the door he's on duty yet he's such a good role model.
When he was made captain I had a great fear. I felt he had so much on his plate, how could they expect him to do everything? But it was something he desperately wanted to do and he does seem very relaxed about it. It helps that he has a good set-up behind him, very different to when Ian Botham was made captain. But the key time will come when England don't play well, that's when you can judge someone.
2. A double century won't always be praised
This year, for the first time in my career, I wasn't feeling enthusiastic when the season started. I felt a hangover from last year. That was a big disappointment with Surrey being relegated. But once we got into the matches it all changed. The team are winning matches, we're top of the Second Division, and last week, in my 20th season, I hit a career-best score. So it's a great start.
The main challenge for us this season is to adapt to away grounds. We know how to play at the Oval, it's nice and bouncy, a true wicket. What we have to do is adapt to the slower wickets when we travel to grounds like Leicester, Derby, Bristol and Worcester. In the second game we did that at Leicester and got a good win, so confidence is high.
I was obviously delighted to get 292 against Gloucestershire. I've been asked: "Why didn't you get the triple hundred?" The reason is on the third morning I was 276 not out. I said to "Butch" that we should declare so we had time to bowl them out rather than let me bat on. There's no satisfaction getting a big score if Surrey don't win. As it was we batted on for half an hour. I tried to get 300 but Gloucestershire had men on the boundary and made it hard. I had to take risks and was out.
This is the first time I've played in the Second Division for six seasons and it will be interesting to see how different it is now, if it is. It's a bit early to judge but one thing I have noticed is that Second Division counties seem more reliant on their overseas players. Gloucestershire are a good example. For our match they lost Jon Lewis to play for England A, then Ian Harvey, their Australian all-rounder, was injured batting. So they were depleted. First Division sides are more able to cope with losing one or two players as their squads have more depth.
One aspect which doesn't seem to be different is financial. I'm sure many people would love to see Surrey struggle after being relegated but on Monday we announced county cricket's largest sponsorship deal, with Brit Insurance. I can't imagine that happening in football.
3. Test players brush off slow starts
I noticed Marcus Trescothick made four single-figure scores at the start of the season and asked Butch why, since he's a top player. Mark pointed out that Test wickets are often better than county tracks. In addition, early in the season in England the ball moves around and it is not easy to combat that. I remember last year Andrew Strauss, after seven low scores, said he was still hitting the ball well in practice so he wasn't worried about it. That was a good way of dealing with the situation mentally whereas other players might fret.
As we know, Marcus then hit 154 against Northants and followed it up with a ton against Sri Lanka. Marcus is more set up for Test cricket because the bowling is generally quicker so the ball comes through waist high more and doesn't swing as much as the fuller-length deliveries.
Early in the season I try to get my legs apart. I look to get further forward if the ball is pitched up. You need to be decisive with your footwork but still play the ball as late as possible, not pushing at it to nick it. It will be tough for the Sri Lankans to adapt, just as we find it tough on their spinning pitches.
4. Talent alone won't impress Fletcher
Alastair Cook also did well against Sri Lanka on Thursday. I haven't seen much of him but I remember him doing an interview in India and being asked if he found it difficult to adapt. "No," he said, "Test cricket is essentially the same game, it's still a battle between bat and ball."
I thought that was a very mature comment. That doesn't surprise me as Duncan Fletcher judges players on temperament and character as well as talent. He obviously likes Cook, which is why they put him in at No 3.
Duncan likes to watch young players on tour to see how they train, how they carry themselves. I remember Richard Johnson, once a team-mate of mine at Middlesex who's now at Somerset, touring India in 2001-02 and Fletch not saying a lot to him. At the end of the tour Duncan sat him down and said he hadn't been impressed and that he felt Richard still had a county cricket attitude. Richard said: "That's because I am a county cricketer and I've carried on doing what I've always done because it's worked." He felt Duncan should have spoken to him earlier.
Another experience I had was in New Zealand with James Foster, of Essex. On the second day at breakfast I was sitting with Foster and Duncan came over and had a chat. He asked James who he worked with, James said mainly Bob Taylor, the former England wicketkeeper. Duncan said he thought David Houghton, who is Zimbabwean like Duncan, was a very good coach and he was thinking of asking him to be involved. Then he turned to me and asked me what I thought. I sat on the fence suggesting he could work with both and get the best of both worlds. Duncan gave me a look which could kill. I had the feeling that he wanted me to say Houghton was the man to push James on.
The bottom line is that Duncan is the man to impress and Alastair Cook has obviously done so. Once he backs you he stands by you, as Geraint Jones and Paul Collingwood have discovered.
5. Mixing cricket and golf can be a handicap
At Christmas my wife, Vandana, wanted to give me a surprise present. She knew I wanted to play more golf so she contacted a local club and said: 'Can my husband join?" She didn't understand what was involved, but soon found that I had to be proposed, have an interview, play a round with the captain, have my photo put up on a board and have the members approve me. Happily I'm now a member with a 21 handicap.
A lot of cricketers love golf. I remember John Embury, who was fielding at slip, once practising his swing while Angus Fraser was running in. Gus stopped and said: "What's going on?" Embers said: "You bowl it, I'll catch it." Gus bowled it at Embers and had all the slips diving to get out of the way.
I can see myself playing quite a bit of golf when I retire but I'll be careful when playing Alec Stewart. Since he's retired he's gone from a 24 handicap to 12 and he's a bandit at that. He turns up at these corporate golf days, immaculate as ever, wearing black from head to toe. All he needs is the Lee Van Cleef moustache and a Colt .45.
While on the subject of "the Gaffer" I'm sure, as a Chelsea fan, he'll be delighted to join me in wishing Arsenal, who I support, good luck in the Champions' League final against Barcelona on Wednesday night.
Best Delivery of the Week
Mohammad Akram, yesterday morning, in a sponsors' six-a-side. He came in off two steps with the new ball and bowled one to me which pitched off and nipped away, just missing the stumps. It flew through. I wasn't wearing a thigh pad, so I made sure my leg was well away from the next delivery.
Best Shot of the Week
I gave my opening partner yesterday, an amateur, first strike. He hit the first three balls for six. I've never seen it done before and I'm sure his friends will be fed up with hearing about it within a few weeks.Reuse content