Thanks for the memories Freddie Flintoff

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The Independent Online

The picture has become part of Ashes folklore.

Andrew Flintoff on his haunches with his arm around Australian Brett Lee at Edgbaston in that heady series of 2005. Comforting the opposition at the moment of desperate defeat.

That is the Flintoff we should remember when he finally gives in to the demands on his body and hangs up his Test match boots at the end of the current series.

Flintoff the magnanimous. Flintoff the compassionate. Flintoff the man who worked hard and played even harder, who put body and soul into his quest for victory but who never lost his sense of fair play.

The truth, however, is that Flintoff was not one of the greats. There was more myth than magic. Too many dark moments. Too much wasted talent.

Harsh? His fans might say so because there is no doubt big, friendly, loveable 'Freddie' has been England's talisman for more than a decade, the man who lifted spirits and instilled dread in the opposition.

The player who, more than any other, was instrumental for bringing home the Ashes in 2005 and making cricket the national aphrodisiac of an unforgettable summer.

Why, there was talk of cricket being "the new football" so sexy were Flintoff's feats, especially in the second Test when he struck nine sixes in scoring 141 over both innings, plus taking seven wickets, including Justin Langer and Ricky Ponting in his first over of Australia's run chase.

That was Flintoff at his most magnificent. But the real Flintoff is more complex.

And so many instead will remember Flintoff for his over-zealous celebrations when he staggered around London on a victory parade which culminated in a drinks reception in Downing Street's garden.

At times brilliant and exhilarating. At times boorish and irresponsible. The infamous late-night pedalo incident in the Caribbean, which cost him the England vice-captaincy, no doubt will haunt him forever.

Flintoff never quite fulfilled his raw potential and that is why, when history trains its calculating microscope, he will be judged harshly.

Flintoff simply does not compare favourably with the great all-rounders. Not in the same class as men such as Garfield Sobers of the West Indies, South Africa's Mike Proctor, New Zealand's Richard Hadlee.

And not in the same orbit as Sir Ian Botham.

True, it is not Flintoff's fault that his entire career has come with a millstone attached, the one which said he would be "the new Botham".

Yet statistics reveal that Flintoff's match-winning reputation is more myth than fact.

In his entire Test match career, spanning 75 matches, Flintoff has taken five wickets in an innings on two occasions. Botham achieved that feat 27 times, albeit in 102 Tests.

Flintoff has scored five Test match centuries. Botham scored 14. Flintoff has never taken 10 wickets in a Test match. Botham did so on four occasions.

We could go on. On every level Botham comes out on top as the man who influenced the business end of just about every match in which he played, while Flintoff fired spasmodically and not always effectively.

But when it came to their scintillating effect on a Test match ground then there was barely a cigarette paper between them.

The moment Botham strode from the pavilion, batting arm twirling like a windmill, the bars emptied. A murmur rippled around the arena. Anticipation filled the air.

Much the same as the ululating roar at Cardiff last week when Flintoff turned at the start of his run-up and galloped in to start another fiery spell.

Few sportsmen are blessed with such an aura, or with such natural talent.

For all his faults, Flintoff made English cricket more interesting, more charismatic. He was English cricket's Roy Race.

It will be a less colourful place without him.