Flintoff tops the bill at Lancashire premiere
Posted in Domestic Cricket
He hasn’t played for almost eight months. He’s hardly been spotted in the country since. And he’s unlikely to play again until the tail end of the summer.
But Andrew Flintoff remains, unquestionably, the biggest star in English cricket.
He was the man most people came to see at Lancashire’s pre-season media day, something of a misnomer given that the LV= County Championship campaign got under way last week.
It was one of the biggest turnouts in recent years at the annual Old Trafford get-together, with the regular band of cricket reporters joined by TV journalists, freelancers and even feature writers.
Days like these offer journalists a chance to mingle and chat with the players, although Flintoff was notable by his absence as one-on-one interviews took place on the outfield.
He was the subject of a separate press conference alongside James Anderson, cleverly scheduled to take place after their team-mates had had their say to dissuade any reporters from leaving early. (Hats off to Rebecca, Lancashire's erstwhile and super-efficient press officer for whom this was her last day in the job.)
It worked, for there was standing room only when the cameras finally began rolling. Sky Sports News provided live coverage, no less.
Sporting a tan befitting someone who has now set up home in Dubai, a generous covering of designer stubble, hair immaculately coiffured and a set of dazzlingly white teeth, Flintoff looked in fine health.
There was the seemingly mandatory can of energy drink, placed carefully on the table to maximise exposure and please the sponsors (rumour has it that it doesn’t contain the said liquid).
With an earring glinting in his left ear, a rather large watch, a silver ring, four (yes, four) colourful bracelets on his right arm (I can confirm bling has finally reached Stretford), a marginally less rugged Anderson by Flintoff’s side and a mass of incessantly clicking cameras, the less frequent visitors to the Members’ Long Room could have been forgiven for thinking they had wandered into a catalogue shoot.
Whereas Lancashire captain Glen Chapple, coach Peter Moores and director of cricket Mike Watkinson were required for barely seven minutes at their joint press conference, Flintoff (with a little help from Anderson) kept the media pack occupied for a full quarter of an hour.
It is a measure of his pull as a sportsman that he can still draw a crowd like this, although the celebrity culture that has pervaded our society – and the cricket world too, however much us cricket writers may wish to deny it – surely plays a significant part.
There was little new in what Flintoff said – his rehab from knee surgery is going to plan; he will not pick up a bat until July; he still harbours ambitions to become the best one-day player in the world (“If I can sort my batting out”) – and he is too well versed in the workings of the media to say anything controversial.
However, he admitted there have been times when he considered packing the game in altogether – “before every operation it does cross your mind” – and insists he still has it in him to make a difference on the world stage.
No doubt a tad bored with answering the same questions for the last few years, Flintoff’s enthusiasm rose visibly when the conversation turned to horse-racing, one of his many off-field interests.
He could afford to laugh at the plight of Flintoff, the horse he part owns, in Saturday’s Grand National – it failed to finish – and showed a nice line in euphemisms when he said with a smile: “The race was a bit fast for him.”
There were words of comfort for his golfing friend Lee Westwood, with whom he shares a management company. Westwood finished runner-up to Phil Mickleson in the Masters last night but Flintoff believes a first major tournament win is “just around the corner”.
Cricket, however, remains Flintoff’s principle love, and it says much for his desire to get back on the pitch after the latest in a long line of injury setbacks that he is prepared to spend so long in the gym (or in the kayak, as he revealed today) in a bid to return.
“I’ve always said that while I feel I can play I will do,” he said. “If I feel I can play as well as I did before I was injured, then I’ll carry on.
“I still think I can come back and perform for Lancashire, and at the highest level as well.”
For a man who has tasted Ashes success twice with England, Flintoff’s claim that winning the LV= County Championship with Lancashire would be “right up there with anything I’ve done in my career so far” will cheer the locals whose side begin their season on Thursday against Warwickshire.
He may not play until the penultimate game of the season but, given the influence Flintoff’s scriptwriter seems to have wielded in recent years, it is not inconceivable that he will help crown Lancashire’s season as he did England’s last summer.
If that is the case, you can be sure of one thing: there will be no shortage of people there to see him do it.