From the publishers of THE HINDU
VOL.32 :: NO.39 :: Sep. 26, 2009
Andrew Flintoff has a long-term strategy for his future and that is something you cannot say about many people in cricket.
Well before big Freddie announced his retirement from Test cricket he made sure that the rest of his life was going to be shaped by the one person he knew understood his needs and inner wishes.
Himself, in other words.
He made the announcement of his farewell to Test cricket during the Ashes series which ensured that he would not be troubled by questions about his future and then, quietly but quickly, filled in the plans for his transition from a county based England international player to a full-time freelance.
These plans were not just formulated by Flintoff. He has, for most of his career, been guided by two men he is sure have his best interests at heart. One is the golf players’ manager Chubby Chandler and the other is his former Lancashire and England team-mate Neil Fairbrother. Now he has added another pal to the growing number of Flintoff’s people.
Chandler has a raft of sporting personalities who rely on his good sense and judgement to guide their lives and the fact that you never read of arguments in their camp must indicate that his words hit the right spot most of the time.
He appointed Fairbrother to be Flintoff’s minder and there we have a completely different story.
You may remember there was a time when Freddie did not always behave in an entirely appropriate way, when he had a drink or three too many and when he was inclined to indulge in whatever adventures came into his mind first.
Sometimes it was a television interview when he was not completely in control of his output of words, sometimes it was an attempt to follow the Christopher Columbus route round the Caribbean in a pedalo.
Fairbrother, a calm character with infinite patience, usually found himself in the firing line when these incidents occurred but he has fought on and I suspect he and Freddie have an understanding about these adventures. They will not stop but they are becoming rarer; perhaps the young Turk in Freddie is growing into an adult Turk. Those with a love of a good laugh may say more’s the pity but Fairbrother may not think so.
At one of their many meetings it was also agreed that Flintoff — with book contracts, requests for interviews and articles to deal with — needed public relations help. Typically he chose a man he has known most of his life: Myles Hodgson, who was a young reporter at Old Trafford when Flintoff joined Lancashire and who has been a friend ever since.
They are both in their own way Lancashire lads, with accents that betray their northern roots, a quiet sense of humour that allows them to look on the brighter side of life and a loyalty which knows no bounds.
(My own affinity with Myles goes back to the childhood of my now grown up children. They went to the same school as Myles while I worked alongside his father Derek right through from provincial journalism to national newspapers. I stepped into Derek’s shoes when I began my cricket journey in 1982; I count him as one of my best friends in a profession with a competitive element that does not always help long-term friendship.)
Myles has already helped Freddie write two or three books and there is another coming out shortly. I sometimes grin to myself when I see him referred to as “Flintoff’s spokesman.” It will be a greatly changed life for the man who was never stretched as an agency reporter churning out yards of copy at lunch, tea and close of play. I hope he finds it a lot more rewarding. He ought to for, as Flintoff holidays in Dubai to recover from his knee operation and offers his advice to the United Arab Emirates side, he is at the beginning of a cricket revolution.
Flintoff has announced — through Myles, of course — that he has turned down the England offer of a one-day contract and that in future he will be a freelance. He will play for whoever offers the best price; Lancashire, if his knee is up to the workload, England if they ask politely, one of the IPL sides if they come up with the right cash and, if my forecaster’s eye is in form, one of the new city teams which may replace the creaking old county, provincial and state sides.
I know his scheme is bound to succeed because of the number of die-hard, conservative traditionalists who have warned just how dangerous this decision must be. They are the same voices, 30 years ago, who railed against Packer, one-day cricket, coloured clothing, and the wearing of helmets.
People hate change. It makes them think outside the box. Cricket people see change to the basic structure of the game as religious zealots used to regard the Reformation. “It is heresy,” they bellow, “and if you just hang on a minute I will think of a reason why.”
Flintoff is not a thinking person; he is action man in spades. But in this case he has made a move which will resonate with players all round the world. They like this genial man but at the same time they recognise that cricket cannot continue as it is, with an over-filled fixture list, a growing number of players folding with injuries and the continual pressure from television in particular for more startling performances.
Just let me offer one hint about the way cricket is gobbling up players and spitting them out. County sides used to have more than their share of men in their 40s, some in their 50s. Not any more. The volume of work, the pressure, the physical effort involved means that retirement at 35 is almost a certainty.
Most of these Flintoff ideas will have filtered through to Freddie from Chandler, Hodgson and Fairbrother but he bears the responsibility for them because he is the figurehead, the blond haired giant by who all rise or fall.
His decision to go freelance may also be the most important move forward in the history of the game. Good luck, Freddie, you are going to need it but at least you have the right team behind you.
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