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Freddie and the Dreamers

Certainly the statements that have been emanating from the Lancashire camp last week seem to suggest that at long last ‘Freddie’ has got his troublesome left ankle sorted out and is back to bowling somewhere near flat-out.

Of course it’s this aspect of Flintoff’s game that most concerns fans of the England side.

While its generally acknowledged that a fit and firing ‘Fred’ adds both pace and consistency to England’s attack, the obsession with the big man’s bowling seems to stem from a much deeper understanding: namely that while he may be a superlative all-round talent (and indeed human being) Flintoff is simply not good enough to force his way into the England set up as a pure batsman.

Flintoff at six, bowling ten to twelve searing overs a day, with the added bonus of a hard hit fifty to fall back on is an attractive prospect.

However Flintoff at five, attempting to pick up the pieces of a sudden top order collapse, looks somewhat less appealing.

Perhaps the real reason behind England’s obsession with Flintoff’s comeback though is not so much about his future as it is about his past.

For twenty years prior to the summer of 2005 English cricket had precious little to shout about. Certainly, for ardent followers of the game, the team’s upward progression, under first Nasser Hussein and then Michael Vaughan, was cause for celebration.

However hard fought victories on the fields of Pakistan and Sri Lanka did little to raise the profile of the game back home and certainly didn’t impinge on the general consciousness of England’s football-mad masses.

It took the 2005 Ashes to achieve that feat. Victory over England’s oldest foe was not only the crowning glory for a side of which we were all justifiably proud, it was also, for many of England’s long suffering fans, a vindication of our obsession with the game.

Readers from the sub-continent may not believe this, but in the England in which I grew up cricket was never ‘cool’. Certainly we hardy few loved it regardless of what anyone else thought, but a zealous interest in the game wasn’t exactly ‘de rigueur’.

Cricket was generally perceived to be tweedy, elitist and frankly boring. It certainly wasn’t something that one discussed when lounging around in clubs, unless those clubs happened to lie adjacent to some perfect village green.

But for one heady summer in 2005 all that changed. Cricket was ‘cool’ and god damn it we were right! This was the greatest game on the planet and as the naysayers and unbelievers flocked to hear us preach about a mystical ‘corridor of uncertainty’ or opine about the intricacies of the LBW law we basked in our new found glory.

For once, as a nation, we worshipped at the altar of those wizards in white and no man received more adulation than the high priest of the ‘heavy ball’: Andrew Flintoff.

Since then of course England and Flintoff have both suffered very public falls from grace. The team itself has singularly failed to live up to the overwhelming expectations of that Ashes summer and ‘Freddie’ has felt the icy grip of mortality tugging at his left ankle.

Nevertheless we’re all of us girding ourselves for the second coming (or perhaps that should read the third or the fourth). In our eyes ‘Big Fred’ will come back to wreath the game in that burly bristled grin, all will be well with the world and cricket will once more be ‘cool’.

Sadly of course the law of diminishing returns, so often exacerbated by the demands that burden the all-rounder, will probably come to bear and Flintoff will never be as good as he was.

However, as long suffering fans of the English game, we’re used to dreaming right?  
(Click here to know more about Jim)

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