The Freddie Factor

There used to be a time when every important Test match, every series India played in, was bookended by lengthy ‘think pieces’ on the importance of Sachin Tendulkar before the start, and breast-beating diatribes on how Tendulkar had yet again failed to deliver results after it was all over.

Those articles missed a central point about the game: in a team game, no one player could guarantee to single-handedly deliver results. It took a long time for India to get over that hang-up — or, as it appears, to pass it on to England, currently in the grip of all things Freddie.

Over the last few days I’ve read Freddie saying he wanted to play Edgebaston, his agent  saying he should have played Edgebaston, his captain and coach saying he would have played Edgebaston if only there was hope that he could last the distance and do more than merely ‘inspire’ with his presence…

More on Freddie: Peter Roebuck sees in the England all-rounder the impermanent attraction of a meteor rather than the sustained brightness of the true star.

Several factors lie behind England’s obsession with Flintoff. Partly it is a nation’s need for heroes. Partly it is the manner in which he plays his cricket, with generosity and adventure. Partly it is the way he takes on the Australians. After all, he was Man of the Series in that famous victory. Partly it is the way he lifts a crowd, responds to its roars, goes into battle on its behalf, captures the imagination. He has an ability to communicate with spectators. Hope has been his calling card. And he has the common touch as well – likes ale and darts and so forth. People sense that he belongs to them, and so forgive his foibles.

If Roebuck is not prepared to concede unqualified, Botham-esque greatness, Rob Steen has no such doubts.

Flintoff pushed my buttons partly because he seemed to have married the privilege of youth to the duties of manhood (the “Fredalo” incident put firmly paid to that delusion), but mostly because he embodied tomorrow, possibility, hope. In the middle of this decade he did for British cricket what Botham did a quarter of a century ago, beer in hand, capacious of heart, invigorating and replenishing. It is assuredly no coincidence that Channel 4 enjoyed its largest live audiences for four years during the Edgbaston Test of 2004, an auspicious prelude to 2005 and all that. Fearful of jinxing him, Tim Rice used to crouch behind the settee whenever David Gower came in; when Freddie takes guard, even now, even in his cricketing dotage, everybody wants a front-row pew. He still symbolises possibility, still radiates joy.

Forget the disappointments. Forget the excesses and the underachievements. At a time when the game, in Britain and beyond, was striving to court and spark a fresh generation, when we fortysomethings could hear only the hissing of long gone summer lawns and had begun to despair that our children would ever be remotely as turned on by flannelled tomfoolery as we were, along plodded Freddie to banish all scepticism. Yabba-dabba-do.

Flintoff is something of a contemporary icon, so the panegyrics as his career runs out the clock is only to be expected. What sticks a bit in my craw, though, is that England seems to have pinned its hopes of the Ashes on this one factor: If Freddie plays, all is well with the world and we can do a repeat of 2005; if he does not, we can not. Seems to me too much Freddie — and not enough on a bowling lineup that seems to be powered by misplaced machismo and a middle-order batting lineup about as solid as apple crumble. [S Rajesh has more]

PS: The fever and related ailments much better, thanks, but I suspect it will take the weekend to fully bounce back. More prolific service will resume Monday — and oh yes, I have another episode to find time to write 🙂