19 March 2007

Andrew "Freddie" Flintoff's National Hero Status 1998-2007

Andrew FlintoffAndrew "Freddie" Flintoff's National Hero Status was born in 1998, the child of a press eager to build up any cricketing all-rounder as the new Ian Botham before condemning him to ignominy as the old Derek Pringle and the precocious skills of a cheerful, 6'4" cricketer from Lancashire.

Even at such an early stage it was apparent to many that the man the nation would come to know as "Freddie" (a nickname granted by his fellow players in memory of either German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche or - more probably, given that Mike Brearley wasn't on the team - yabba-dabba-doo-ing cartoon character Fred Flintstone) possessed many of the skills of a great all-rounder. As a bowler he could inspire fear in batsmen, as a batsman he could inspire fear in bowlers and as a drinker he inspired awe in such greats as Jeffrey Bernard, Oliver Reed and George Best.

With such unique attributes at his command it was inevitable that Freddie would be granted National Hero Status. Over the years there were many heroic achievements, two wickets in the vital final over in a one day match against India in 2001-2 that led to a shirt-ripping display, centuries against South Africa and the West Indies along with 5-wicket hauls in 2003-4 with many more to come, not to mention showing such extraordinary resolution in the face of the massed forces of pints of bitter and tins of Fray Bentos that he actually looked as if he could fit through the cricket ground turnstiles.

Freddie's National Hero Status was to reach its zenith in 2005 when his feats of cricketing excellence during the Ashes Test series (and drinking excess after it) succeeded in winning him the admiration of a whole nation, not to mention an award from the National Brewers Association for services to the industry. From such a peak, however, decline is inevitable.

In the following years, Flintoff found it hard to repeat the feats of his youth - whether on or off the field. With fame came responsibility and with the failure of Michael Vaughan's knee to survive anything beyond a shuffle out of the armchair to grab a newspaper came the responsibilities of the England captaincy. When England lost the Ashes to a resurgent Australia, Freddie's National Hero Status began to show signs of frailty.

It was during the Cricket World Cup in the Caribbean that the last innings was to be played. Over several hours in St Lucia's Rumours nightclub, Freddie - cheered on by his team-mates - worked steadily, first grabbing a few singles before moving on to doubles, pints and chasers, with the prospect of an extra spicy goat curry on the way home and some serious runs later. It was not to be. Determined that his legend should live on, Freddie took the unfortunate decision to grab a pedalo and set out into Rodney Bay, where he capsized and his England vice-captaincy sank without trace.

Andrew "Freddie" Flintoff's National Hero Status, along with the prospect of him ever captaining the England cricket team again - barring every other England-qualified human being capable of holding a bat being struck by lightning - was buried at sea. It is survived by David Gower's Tiger Moth, Mike Gatting's reverse sweeps and Geoffrey Boycott's selfless team-spiritedness.