Andrew Flintoff struck with his very first ball in the NatWest T20 final against Birmingham on Saturday © Getty Images
Andrew Flintoff’s eleventh hour return to the Lancashire team at the cost of the injured Kabir Ali turned out to be nearly match-winning, though Birmingham eventually triumphed in the T20 Blast Final. Shiamak Unwalla looks at the man whose charisma last lit up the stands five years ago to the day.
There’s something about Freddie. You can never quite tell why he is beloved. He is not the greatest proponent of his art. He is certainly not the most dashing and debonair English cricketer of his generation. He is an everyman. He is a giant. He is the man who chose to console a nearly-tearful Brett Lee rather than celebrate after his team pulled off possibly the greatest Test win they had ever enjoyed.
Andrew Flintoff — Charismatic, Cheerful, Entertaining, Good-natured, Lion-hearted; A man who could break a batsman’s teeth and hit the leather off a ball with equal ease. A man who captured the imagination of England — and indeed the rest of the world — with some wonderful displays with both bat and ball.
It was no wonder, then, that the news of Flintoff’s last-minute inclusion in place of Kabir Ali for the T20 Blast final was met with such vociferous accord by fans and spectators alike. It was a chance of seeing Freddie back in action again. The cricketing gods could not have written more perfect a script; Flintoff would be playing a game exactly five years after he bowed out in unspectacular fashion against Australia at The Oval.
Lancashire were to bowl first. Would Freddie open the bowling? No, but he got an over soon enough. And he struck with the very first ball he sent down; Ian Bell holing out to long-on. The screams of ecstasy that were heard throughout the ground were perhaps not as much from the players in the middle as from the spectators in the stands. Good old Freddie had started off with a wicket.
It didn’t matter that his next over was pummelled and he finished with figures of one for 20 in two overs. What counted was that Freddie had stood up and delivered. There were no spectacular moments in the field after that; none from him anyway. But the Birmingham Bears had somehow got to 181. Surely Flintoff would bat up the order now! Perhaps come in at No 3 and do some damage?
But that was not to be. No 3 came and went. So did No 4. And Nos 5, 6, and 7. Where on Earth was Freddie? Why would anyone waste him all the way down at No 9? Did the Lancs not know who they had in their side? This was the man who carted an attack that boasted of Shane Warne, Brett Lee, Michael Kasprowicz and Jason Gillespie to all ends of this very ground, Edgbaston, in that Ashes game.
But for some strange, unfathomable, wondrous, silly, inexplicable, mind-numbing, foolhardy reason, Freddie was left till it was almost too late. Almost, but not quite. With 26 needed off eight balls, he showed why he should have been batting at least three positions higher. Six down the ground, followed by six over midwicket.
The cricketing gods had spoken. You don’t make Freddie bat at No 9. You just don’t. Unfortunately, with 14 to get off the final over, he could only get five off three balls, and Lancashire went down by an agonising four runs, as Edgbaston roared in approval of both its hometown team’s victory, and an all-round display by one of England’s most loved cricketers of all time.
For the neutral onlooker, it was a tremendous game of cricket made that much sweeter with the return of Andrew “Freddie” Flintoff. Five years after his last game for England, he showed that he had lost none of his endearing lustre. Some things truly never change.
(Shiamak Unwalla is a reporter with Cricket Country. He is a self-confessed Sci-Fi geek and Cricket fanatic who likes to pass his free time by reading books, watching TV shows, and eating food. Sometimes all at the same time. You can follow him on twitter at @ShiamakUnwalla)