From the publishers of THE HINDU

VOL.32 :: NO.33 :: Aug. 15, 2009

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ON THE BALL / W.V. RAMAN COLUMN

Freddie will be missed

The tag of genuine all-rounder fitted Andrew Flintoff so well. His presence inspired the England side as much as Ian Botham’s did in the 1980s.

The Australians have made a strong comeback at Headingley, and they could not have timed it better as time was running out for them after being one down at the end of the third Ashes Test. They were also helped partly by the absence of key players such as Andrew Flintoff and Kevin Pietersen in the England line-up. The absence of these two stalwarts has had a major impact on the performance of the English team, and with Flintoff deciding to retire England would have hoped that he plays the entire series.

Unfortunately, that was not to be as the charismatic all-rounder could not get fit in time and Flintoff must be as disappointed as his team and his fans. He had bowled England to victory at Lord’s and then played a crucial knock at Edgbaston to save his team from a tricky situation. So obviously England would have desperately wanted him to be on the field as his presence makes a huge difference for them.

The all-rounder’s decision to retire prompted some cynics to accuse him of preferring money to patriotism, but no cricketer would give up representing his country in Test cricket however huge an amount he is likely to make from other avenues. Freddie has categorically stated that he found it extremely difficult to battle his injuries and it is a case of the wearer knowing where the shoe pinches.

While it is easy for people to criticise, the fact remains that leading cricketers like Flintoff, Tendulkar and Ponting, to name a few, give their all once they get on to the field. The very fact that these top-notch performers are criticised repeatedly is an indication that even the critics concede such players have to perform if their sides have to do well. The Australians are now finding out what a huge difference the likes of McGrath and Warne made during their playing days. Similarly, English cricket will realise the worth of Flintoff after he is gone from the stage.

The England side nurtured cricketers like Phil DeFreitas and Chris Lewis hoping that they will fill the void left by Sir Ian Botham, but unfortunately they didn’t come anywhere close to it. Finally it was Flintoff who proved to be the ideal fit for the genuine all-rounder tag; his presence inspired the England side as much as Botham’s did in the 1980s.

The Ashes in 2005 was won mainly due to the contribution of Flintoff with both bat and ball but since then injuries somehow caught up with him to make his appearances sporadic. The various surgeries and therapies must have been frustrating for Flintoff and though he has indicated he will be around in the other formats of the game, an England side without Flintoff will be devoid of half its strength. Hopefully “Freddie” will play the final Test and leave on a high note. But in case he is rendered unfit, it will be an anti-climax for a great entertainer and the Ashes may well swing in Australia’s favour.

Freddie will figure in international cricket in the shorter versions of the game and he will also be playing in the next edition of the IPL for Chennai Super Kings. His popularity is bound to only increase in India and his presence may probably help CSK win the elusive title. That is a long time coming but his decision to retire from Test cricket need not necessarily be a yardstick for others to emulate.

The threat of many players quitting international cricket to retain and prolong their IPL contracts is lurking on the horizon, but one must realise that the IPL contracts are also linked to the current status of the cricketers. For example, a McGrath does not even get a game as he has retired from international cricket and hence retirements based on IPL contracts can be counter-productive. On the other hand, a youngster who has hardly aggregated a hundred runs in international cricket gets paid handsomely because he has enough years of cricket left in him.

In such an intriguing and incomprehensible scenario, the current international stars like Freddie decide on their retirement based on their mindset and fitness levels. Even if some decide to retire from Test cricket with a view to extending their career in the shorter versions of the game, one cannot really blame them as they have options and it was the administrators who created the avenues.

While the administrators across the world look at generating revenue, there is no harm if the cricketers look at the best option to make their future secure. Whether or not Freddie made his decision based on financial considerations is a matter of conjecture, but what is important is that he should be remembered as one who entertained spectators even in Test cricket, which is viewed as a drag by the younger generation and the new fans of the game.

Flintoff has turned many a game on its head and won many matches for his country on his own. Such cricketers don’t emerge every second year but once in probably two decades, if not more. It is not only England that missed Freddie at Headingley, but very shortly he will be missed by many followers of cricket.

However, one can take solace from the fact that he is not exiting completely from cricket, as he will be around for a while. But Test cricket will be a shade poorer without the exciting all-rounder from Lancashire.



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