It isn’t often that a player captures the hearts and minds of a nation so thoroughly. For English rugby, it was Jonny Wilkinson in 2003 as his drop goal sailed between the posts, for English football, well, erm…David Beckham’s haircuts, and for English cricket, it was Andrew Flintoff’s display in the 2005 Ashes series.
However, Freddie, a nickname derived from Fred Flinstone, did not just save his special performances for the 2005 Ashes tests. Both on and off the field, he was a behemoth of the national game, and he was a big part of the side that gave cricket a real taste of nationwide attention.
Flintoff was a late bloomer in cricket, and he was a man that struggled hugely for consistency. At county level in particular he was poor, often going missing in games. Amidst all of this, his Test debut for England came against South Africa in 1998, a match that saw Flintoff and Jacques Kallis both take wickets, with the latter going on to establish himself as the games greatest all-rounder.
In 2000, he gained recognition for the wrong reasons as England’s management blasted him over his weight and fitness. His response was a battling 42 not out against Zimbabwe in an ODI, which saw him pick up the Man of the Match award. This was just a taste of what was to come for the big man though.
The 2001-02 tour of India held a lot of lows for Flintoff, with his batting average plummeting and difficulties causing him to break down in tears. However, the man that decided to entrust Flintoff with the final over of the last ODI against India deserves a huge amount of credit for revitalising his career.
Freddie, who was protecting an 11-run lead in the final over, ran out Anil Kumble before bowling Javagal Srinath to win the match for England.
From 2002 onwards he became the player he had threatened to be. Successful series against South Africa and the West Indies saw him rise to become a key part of the England team, as he changed his averages from 19 with the bat and 47 with the ball, to 43 and 28 respectively.
In his earlier career though, he will perhaps be best remembered for when he played against New Zealand and the West Indies in an ODI series. Due to an injury, Flintoff was brought in as a specialist batsman, and he knocked seven bells out of the Kiwi and Windies’ attack, scoring consecutive hundreds.
It seemed then, that Freddie had become somewhat of a limited overs specialist, with his fast bowling and brutal play with the bat. It did raise questions over his ability to play Test cricket though, with Flintoff renowned for his big hitting, and not his ability to dig in.
However, he did his best to prove otherwise, as he scored seven victorious half-centuries against New Zealand and the West Indies in a record breaking Test summer in 2004, which also included a career best 167 against the Windies at Edgbaston.
In early 2005 though, Flintoff was forced to have surgery on his ankle, leading to fears that the England man would miss the much anticipated Ashes series with Australia. However, due to rehabilitation or sheer will, Flintoff returned ahead of schedule.
Now, the entire Ashes series was an historic one, and it will live long in the memory of every cricket fan for showcasing the good, the bad and the astonishing in the game. But, the second Test at Edgsbaston was nicknamed ‘Fred’s Test’, and for good reason.
He scored a total of 147 runs across both innings before taking seven wickets in the match despite a shoulder injury. Taking the wickets of both Justin Langer and Ricky Ponting. However, words don’t do this bowling spell justice. It has been dubbed ‘the best over ever bowled’, and we agree:
To first take Langer’s wicket, before stitching up arguably one of the greatest batsmen ever in an over, and to then take his wicket after forcing him into a little tickle outside of his stumps was simply stunning. Whether you were in the crowd or at home, you could feel the electricity of the moment as Flintoff put in one of the greatest spells of bowling against the Australian captain. It was simply magic.
Flintoff’s contributions throughout the series were huge, and he did not rest on his laurels following the second-test, as he hit an inspiring century before taking five wickets in the final test which allowed England to go off for bad light, and finally regain the Ashes.
Following this, Freddie was pretty much the hero that everyone wanted to buy a pint for. It seems as though he did actually let everyone in Britain buy him a drink to:
Regardless of his antics, he was incredible throughout the 2005 series. In the immediate series after the Ashes against India, in which Flintoff was the captain, were seen as a success with both bat and ball as he guided a young team against difficult opponents and conditions.
However, the subsequent years saw his recurring ankle problems worsen and he also captained the Three Lions to a humiliating 5-0 Ashes loss against Australia. During the 2007 World Cup he indulged in a drinking session and had to be saved from a pedalo just a few days before their vital match against Canada. It was a hilarious incident, and, rumour has it, that he was the ‘mate’ Jay from the Inbetweeners sailed to Africa with in a pedalo.
Injuries curtailed a lot of his later career with his ankle problem never disappearing. He was also constantly warned for his bad behaviour and drinking. He retired in 2010, and then again in 2014 after a brief spell in the Big Bash. While he disappointed in Australia on the field, he became a real fan favourite with his big personality shining through.
It is testament to one of England’s greats that, while with the national team he was hated by the Aussies, but he won a place in their hearts when playing for the Brisbane Heat. He was a king of English cricket, and what better way to finish than listening to the King singing the King:
— louise (@loulouise16) 15 May 2015