Stephen Brenkley: Flintoff the great

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

As 'our Fred' announces his retirement from Test cricket, it's time to review his enduring influence

During a benefit dinner in the Long Room at Lord's the other night, Andrew Flintoff had them eating out of his hand. Here was a man of the people in his element.

He was quick-witted, engaging and warm. He can entertain and amuse princes and paupers. It is the kind of popularity that money cannot buy, it is given to few and it will endure for as long as he lives. It is forged mainly from his deeds of derring-do in 2005 but it goes beyond that.

Flintoff's way of playing the game and his innate understanding of its eternal verities transcends boundaries of class and creed. One of the most iconic of all sporting images, of all human images, is of Flintoff bending a gracious knee to console the Australian, Brett Lee, who was on his knees, immediately after the end of the Second Test at Edgbaston in 2005.

That photograph elevated Flintoff from accomplished sportsmen to compassionate man, one who understood naturally that it is important to win but to do so you always need somebody to beat. His life since the Ashes were regained has become a soap opera of injuries and escapades in which he has always somehow managed to remain the hero.

After the other players had left Lord's the other night, Flintoff stayed around for a bit longer. He loved it and they loved him. The nickname, given him years ago when he was a kid who had just joined the Lancashire staff because his surname put them in mind of Fred Flintstone, has fitted him perfectly. In an intangible way it has undoubtedly aided his progress to man of the people status. Our Fred has a more resonant ring to it than our Andy.

The announcement of his retirement from Test cricket yesterday was sad, hardly unexpected and untimely in almost every sense. He had wished to do it through his oldest journalist pal, Myles Hodgson of the Press Association his long-time collaborator on many books past and probably future - and the only reporter of whom he is genuinely fond, understandably thinking the rest of us to be a bunch of polecats.

In the event he was upstaged by a report in yesterday's Sun, the paper for whom he wrote a column for many years without much enthusiasm. He might well have been let down by unwary words by people close to him.

Fred, dare we say our Fred, has fought a gallant and often lone battle against the injuries which have ravaged his body since the Ashes were won four years ago. Sometimes it has been painful to watch him play in yet another game for which he was patently not fit and then go off for another operation and another bout of intensive rehabilitation.

Ultimately, he decided that everything had to be aimed towards one last tilt at the Aussies. Each step on the treadmill, each lift of weight was done with the Ashes in mind. He had recovered from ankle surgery only to be afflicted by a hip complaint. Then the knee went and it is the knee, swollen again last week and the target of three recent cortisone injections, which finally did for him.

Flintoff recognised that he could no longer go on. But he was probably mistaken in announcing it publicly so close to the crucial Lord's Test in which his participation remains slightly doubtful. All the attention was on him yesterday when it should, more legitimately, have been on a team who had so improbably managed a draw in the First npower Test in Cardiff last Sunday.

It was a huge distraction and Ricky Ponting, the Australia captain, was not playing games, or heaven forfend, indulging in gamesmanship when he averred that it would be a distraction for the rest of the series. This Ashes series will now take on the guise of Freddie Flintoff's Farewell which is not ideal considering the enormous task with which the team are already faced.

Ridiculous though it might seem, there will always be an element of what might have been to the Flintoff career. He has played 76 Test matches, scored 3708 runs with a batting average of 31.69 and taken 219 wickets at 32.52, neither figure quite reflecting his prowess and meaning to the teams in which he played.

But there have been only five centuries when there might have been easily double that, only two instances of five wickets in an innings when there should have been maybe ten. Yet his influence on England and the balance he brought to the teams will last for a considerably long time.

It is true that they have often won without him. Since the defeat of Australia in 2005 England have played 23 matches with him and won three and 25 without him and won 12. But they have been understandably desperate to field him in this series. Flintoff was a player who always added up to more than the sum of his parts and his parts were very considerable indeed.

Voices
A Russian hunter at the Medved bear-hunting lodge in Siberia
Save the tigerWildlife charities turn to those who kill animals to help save them
News
Davis says: 'My career has been about filling a niche - there were fewer short actors and fewer roles – but now I'm being offered all kinds of things'
PeopleWarwick Davis on Ricky Gervais, Harry Potter and his perfect role
News
i100
Sport
Frank Lampard will pass Billy Wright and equal Bobby Charton’s caps tally of 106 caps against
sportFormer Chelsea midfielder in Etihad stopgap before New York contract
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
The first film introduced Daniel Radcliffe to our screens, pictured here as he prepares to board the train to Hogwarts for the first time.
booksHow reading Harry Potter helps children grow up to be gay-friendly
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Aladdin is performed at the Tony Awards in New York in June
theatreBrit producer Lythgoe makes kids' musical comedy a Los Angeles hit
Sport
Usain Bolt of Jamaica smiles and shakes hands with a competitor after Jamaica won their first heat in the men's 4x100m relay
sport
News
Chancellor George Osborne, along with the Prime Minister, have been 'complacently claiming the economy is now fixed', according to shadow Chancellor Ed Balls
i100... which is awkward, because he is their boss, after all
Life and Style
A small bag of the drug Ecstasy
Health
Life and Style
Floral-print swim shorts, £26, by Topman, topman.com; sunglasses, £215, by Paul Smith, mpaulsmith.co.uk
FashionBag yourself the perfect pair
News
news
News
Netherlands' goalkeeper Tim Krul fails to make a save from Costa Rica's midfielder Celso Borges during a penalty shoot-out in the quarter-final between Netherlands and Costa Rica during the 2014 FIFA World Cup
newsGoalkeepers suffer from 'gambler’s fallacy' during shoot-outs
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'
filmReview: A week late, Secret Cinema arrives as interactive screening goes Back to the Future
Extras
indybest
News
i100
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

Career Services

Day In a Page

Save the Tiger: Meet the hunters tasked with protecting Russia's rare Amur tiger

Hunters protect Russia's rare Amur tiger

In an unusual move, wildlife charities have enlisted those who kill animals to help save them. Oliver Poole travels to Siberia to investigate
Transfers: How has your club fared in summer sales?

How has your club fared in summer sales?

Who have bagged the bargain buys and who have landed the giant turkeys
The best swim shorts for men: Bag yourself the perfect pair and make a splash this summer

The best swim shorts for men

Bag yourself the perfect pair and make a splash this summer
Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

In grandfather's footsteps

5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

Martha Stewart has flying robot

The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

The dining car makes a comeback

Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

Gallery rage

How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

Eye on the prize

Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

Women's rugby

Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable