In just a few hours, the final Test of the 2009 Ashes series begins — and how good is that! It means that five days from now tops, we will know which of the two teams gets to keep the remains of burnt out bails. Or more to the point, it means that five days from now, we will not have to read any more about what has turned into the Flintoff test.
Nothing against Fred; nothing against an iconic player getting a fitting send off either — but for over two weeks now, all discussion on England’s prospects seem to begin and end with Freddie, and this is getting to be faintly ludicrous. If the message is that for England to have a chance, Flintoff must play, what then does it say for the rest of the players? And extending that thought, can we all stop writing about English cricket next week on — since Flintoff will have left the Test scene, so England won’t rate any more? Steve James in a recent Telegraph piece speaks of the concomitant cacophony attendant on the outsize star:
What the England management didn’t want was further trouble from the awkward, avaricious PR machine that drives Flintoff – the reason why he has arrived at Tests this season wearing hooded tops bearing the logo of his personal sponsor rather than England’s, the reason why he shamelessly turns his bat round to expose another sponsor’s logo whenever a photographer ventures near a net session. But they did get that and, in a strange way, it was good that Chandler made his remarks. At the appropriate moment it has neatly provided the fuller picture. During this Oval Test there will doubtless be a guard of honour for Flintoff’s departure, deserved ovations, appreciative waves and even some tears. It will be emotional. It always is.
But, on the flip side, the truth is that Flintoff and his concomitant cacophony are often a distraction, and have been for some time. Flintoff has changed since his heroics of 2005. Team-mates will say as much in private. The cult of celebrity, our need for heroes and some naked commercial exploitation have all played their parts.
So buckle up for one last celebration. Hopefully, there will be some decent cricket in there somewhere, too. On the tangential note of cricketers and farewells, Dileep Premachandran on the cautionary tale that is Vinod Kambli’s career, and the stark contrast with contemporary Rahul Dravid:
In the years to come Kambli will be both cautionary tale and trivia question. After all, how many play their last Test at the age of 23 and finish with an average of 54? On the Waterfront’s “I could have been a contender” line will always shadow his every step…