Stephen Brenkley: Cricket needs Freddie Flintoff but his Lancashire return may reignite old feuds
He exasperated many of his team-mates towards the end of his career
Cricket needs stars. It needs their heroics, their peccadilloes, their strengths, their weaknesses. It needs players who can make the front page as well as the back, who can feature in a news bulletin and not simply lead the sports agenda.
For a decade, Andrew Flintoff, with a little late grudging competition from Kevin Pietersen, filled the role admirably. He was a scintillating player who was explosive with bat and ball, but more than that he was also frequently injured or plastered.
The story, which he scripted impeccably, was often about which bodily part was failing or where he had been carousing, as much as the deeds of derring do in the middle. Freddie, as he has long since been known to the wider world (though his mum certainly still calls him "our Andrew"), was a character, the archetypal lad.
It would hardly have mattered had he not also done the business on the pitch but the 2005 Ashes series, in which he was perpetually glorious, raised him to the pantheon. He could not achieve a reprise on the same scale four years later, though he put his giant frame through the ringer one more time, played an instrumental part in regaining the Ashes and then the knees, the ankles and very possibly the back and the shoulders told him they had had enough.
Five years on, it has been confirmed, he is to return for Lancashire in the NatWest T20 Blast. It is richly apposite that his entrance may well be delayed by an ankle injury suffered in training and if the previous is anything to judge by, it is not beyond the bounds that he may go out on the lash the night before the match and purloin a rowing boat at Fairhaven Lake in St Anne's.
We probably need him and he clearly needs the game if after five years away from it, when he has boxed on a professional bill and had several other made-for-television adventures, he is returning now.
He should be wished well but do not think the return will be universally popular.
Flintoff was beginning to exasperate many of his England team-mates as his career came to an end – "a strangely contradictory character," his last captain Andrew Strauss called him. At 36, it is exceedingly doubtful that he can be as effective as he once was. Maybe he will be good for Lancashire's young players, maybe the Indian Premier League will come calling.
It will be intriguing to see how Freddie handles a cricket media of which he was ultimately dismissive. It will be, for certain, a circus.
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