Brilliance most foul

2009-07-25 00:00

HE may be an English hero, the toast of the tabloids, and he may have helped overwhelm Australia at Lord’s last week, but Andrew Flintoff remains a thug.

His pumped-up barrage of outswingers and yorkers was impressive, at times irresistible, but the fact that he felt it necessary to direct a torrent of foul-mouthed abuse at successive batsmen after almost every ball was pathetic, at times embarrassing.

His ability to thunder in from the Pavilion end and dismiss Australians at regular intervals was thrilling, at times sensational, but his celebrations at the fall of a wicket — standing still, index finger raised, wholly self-obsessed, a sneering expression on his face — were narcissistic, at times grotesque.

“You know what I really like about Freddie,” splutters the archetypal English inebriate, sunburned and belching. “He’s one of us — he likes a good time, he likes a drink and he likes to give the Aussies a right good thumping. Oi, your round!”

For such folk, Flintoff is a totem.

“Fred-die, Fred-die, give us wave! Fred-die, give us a wave,” they chant at every opportunity, whether he is fielding on the boundary, participating in a warm-up session or waiting for the post-match presentation ceremony to begin.

Even for the broader cricketing public, the Lancastrian remains the breast-beating standard-bearer of England’s efforts to beat Australia and win the Ashes. In recent weeks, there has been much talk about reviving the spirit of 2005 and overcoming Ricky Ponting’s side again. When Flintoff was asked about “spirit of 2005”, he reportedly replied: “What about the spirit of 2005? I think it was vodka, but only when the beer ran out.”

The disciples loved that. “You see, that’s our Freddie, always up for a laff,” they cackle. “Do you remember the time when he got plastered and went out on that pedalo? There was such a fuss, but he was just being a lad. He didn’t mean no harm to nobody, not our Freddie. What’s wrong with having a good time?”

So what’s the problem, you may say. The problem lies with a society that makes heroes out of thugs.

Far from being celebrated on the front and back pages this past week, Flintoff ought to have been formally warned by the umpires for his foul-mouthed ranting and, if he persisted, fined by the match referee. Can anybody explain why cricket officials seem so incapable of enforcing any form of discipline?

Far from being praised as “one of the lads”, he should be taken aside and admonished for advocating binge-drinking to a generation that needs little encouragement.

Far from being instinctively hailed as one of the world’s greatest all-rounders, he should be judged on his actual performance — in 77 Tests, he has scored 3 742 runs at a mediocre average of 31.71 and taken only 225 wickets at a cost of 32 runs each and a rate of one per 11 overs; in 141 limited over internationals, his batting average is only 32.01 and his 937 overs have cost an average of 4.39 runs. Flintoff’s legend has been created in the bar, not in Wisden.

It’s fiction, not fact ... and that’s not all.

On the eve of last week’s Test against Australia, he called a press conference to declare he would retire from Test cricket at the end of the current series. “My body is telling me things, and I’m starting to listen,” the 31-year-old groaned. “I’ve had four operations on my left ankle, and I can’t keep playing the five-day game.”

Perking up, he added: “I’m not giving up cricket because I enjoy the shorter form of the game, and I want to play in the next World Cup in 2011, and even the one after that.”

Ironically, on the same day, the Chennai Super Kings issued a statement that their Englishman would be available to play in the entire Indian Premier League next year.

A cynic might suggest Flintoff is giving up Test cricket not because of injury, but because he has worked out he can make a lot more money playing 20/20 cricket around the world. So much for a big-hearted English hero wrapping himself in the flag of St George, so much for a thug chasing the cash.

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