Despite writing two thousand years before the birth of test cricket, Aristotle captured the nature of a legendary cricketer when he observed ‘we are we repeatedly do … excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.’ Those who have earned the right to be called cricketing legends will have been consistent match winners and led their nation to victory in many a series. Andrew Flintoff only had a small handful of matches and one such series during an eleven-year test career. His big personality and high media profile have given him a unique status in English cricket – but it is not one he deserves. Freddie is a mediocre one-hit wonder who, after the 2005 Ashes, became an unfocused celebrity-cricketer who failed to achieve his potential due to his own lack of commitment to the game.
The warning signs were there from the start. Flintoff’s ascent to the England side was far from easy and his success in earning a place reflected more on the national team’s lack of options at the time than his abilities. His problems with fitness and weight were largely of his own making – he never took the dietary and training regimes put in place by the ECB seriously enough and paid the price with a series of injuries throughout his career. In 2000 he was warned by the ECB for being overweight and was dropped from the side a year later. In his first four years in test cricket he averaged 19 with the bat and 47 with the ball – statistics that in most eras would have seen him permanently dropped. Given another chance he improved but was far from spectacular – one five-for in his first fifty tests was an awful record for an allrounder who claimed to be a better bowler than batsman. Then came the Ashes of 2005 where Flintoff excelled. Defeating the Australians aged 27 should have been the point from which he became a dominant figure with bat and ball in world cricket. Instead, he has been living off the good will afforded to him by this series ever since.
Becoming England captain could have been the making of Andrew Flintoff, instead it broke him. In his second series as test captain against Sri Lanka, Flintoff showed a characteristic lack of understanding of the subtleties of cricket by bowling himself for far too long in the first test – destroying the morale of his fellow bowlers as well as his always fragile ankle. Bowling at no more than 85mph and looking a little overweight, he trundled in for 51 second innings overs taking an unimpressive 2-131. His self-made injuries led to him playing just one warm up game before the infamous 2006-07 Ashes series, where captain Flintoff let England down on and off the field. He scored just two 50s with the bat and failed to take 5 wickets not just in an innings but in any of the five games. Even worse was Flintoff’s behaviour during the tour. This man was leading the first English team in decades with any chance of winning on Australian soil and rather than leading by example, he was consistently drunk. According to former-captain Nasser Hussain, Flintoff had three or four warnings on the tour for inappropriate behaviour and binge drinking and this disgraceful unprofessionalism surely contributed to England’s humiliating loss. Flintoff’s antics reached new lows at the 2007 World Cup where as vice-captain he led the team on a night out just two days before a crucial match. He had to be rescued after falling off a pedalo in the early hours of the morning and this incident ‘changed the whole atmosphere in camp’ which led to a decline in morale from which England never recovered, according to skipper Michael Vaughan. He’d lost the Ashes, he’d lost the World Cup – and it was all downhill from there.
From after the 2005 Ashes to his international retirement in 2009, Flintoff failed to score an international century and took just one five-for. After his World Cup debacle Flintoff was in and out of the side and unsurprisingly the man who’d never looked after his body was plagued by injury. When he did play, he remained inconsistent – far too aggressive with the bat, far too little variation with the ball. As one journalist noted ‘he has never quite worked out how he takes wickets or scores runs… (and) has performed below his highest capabilities.’ Despite averaging a mediocre 33 with the bat and an appalling 52 with the ball in his final international series – the 2009 Ashes – Flintoff was given a hero’s send off on the account of one good spell at Lords and a run out at the Oval. It was typical Flintoff – everyone remembered his great moments because there were so few of them to remember.
he’s not even the best all-rounder of his own generation
Statistically there is absolutely no case to be made for Andrew Flintoff being a cricketing legend, indeed he’s not even the best all-rounder of his own generation. South Africa’s Jacques Kallis has better averages with bat and ball – and scored 10,000 more test runs than Flintoff. As a bowling all-rounder, perhaps it is fairer to compare Flintoff to New Zeeland’s Daniel Vettori who with similar batting stats to the vastly more talented batsman Flintoff, took 136 more wickets than the Englishman including twenty five-fors to Flintoff’s three and three ten wicket matches to Flintoff’s none. Even the unheralded and injury prone Kiwi Chris Cairns averaged higher with the bat and lower with the ball. There is no need to insult the true greats of the game by comparing them to Flintoff; the point is very clear. Whichever way you dress it up a batting average of 31 and bowling average of 33 prove that Flintoff was never consistently a top player. With half the number of Paul Collingwood’s test centuries and a quarter of the number of five-fors taken by Monty Panesar, the legend of Freddie is one rooted in mythical moments, not facts.
Only the obligatory comeback remained. Uninfluential at Lancashire, he played for Brisbane Heat in the Big Bash where taking just three wickets and failing to score a 50 did little to damage his reputation. Indeed, he was hired more his entertainment value than his cricketing skills and did not disappoint, singing ‘In the Ghetto’ on his on-field microphone during one game. From there he found his true calling – television. Having never won an international series as captain he fared rather better in the jungle, winning Australia’s I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out of Here. Since then he’s appeared in all kinds of nonsense – from 8 Out of 10 Cats to A League of Their Own. Typically introduced as a legend by some fawning and unknowledgeable host, Freddie goes on to tell the same stories over and over again and engage in some tiresome banter. His chance of excellence long gone, he is now fully committed to his habits of mediocrity. At least he’s finally consistent.