The TV was on the Sky sports channel in a friend’s living room. The scenes on the screen, seen many times before, still elicited reactions from grown men like they were little kids in a candy store.
The sheer force of the personality and the improbable yet predictable acts he was performing makes one take notice again. The body had been breaking down and the end was near but the will of the showman in him comes out as he fires a throw to catch the Aussie captain short to seal the Ashes on August 23, 2009. He strikes the Jesus pose. Teammates rush towards him and wrap themselves around him and my friends marveled at the cricketer Andrew Flintoff was. “What a cricketer!” gets mentioned over and over again.
Flintoff is a habit that’s impossible to break. You can’t look away. He is the main event. The ability to change the course of matches and series on his own had besotted fans from all over the world for many years. Even as the Ashes of 2009 was winding down, his swan song at the Oval, and he didn’t make an impact with the ball, but provided a moment of inspiration, a parting shot, to deny Ponting a chance at redemption.
There is a sudden murmur, laced with excitement in the press box. Lancashire are warming up for the final game of the NatWest T20 blast against the home team Warwickshire.
There is the familiar sight of the larger-than-life frame of Flintoff marking his run up and having a bowl, loosening up for the final. He always had a sense for the occasion and what better stage than the final of the T20 tournament to announce yourself back on the scene. It is after all, August 23, 2014, five years to the day at the Oval when Freddie became Jesus [© Jarrod Kimber]. Freddie knows drama.
Few journalists ask amongst themselves, “Is Freddie gonna play?” All signs point to the affirmative. It isn’t official yet but people can hardly contain themselves.
It was still a few minutes before toss, so I decided to step out for a smoke. People were milling around the stadium, filling up on their refreshments, chit chatting, and just relaxing. After a few minutes, PA announcer listed the names of the players in the two XIs, as the toss had taken place. Everything came to a standstill as the names of the Lancashire XI were being read out.
“Captain Paul Horton, Tom Smith, Ashwell Prince, Usman Khawaja, Karl Brown, Jos Buttler…” A pause as if the announcer needed to catch his breath and, “Andrew Flintoff”. “Yes, He is playing,” said an elderly gentleman to his friend who had come to a stop to hear Flintoff’s name announced. Now they can continue walking and get back to their seats. Lancashire won the toss and possibly Freddie is going to bowl soon. You just can’t afford to miss it because Freddie knows drama. Freddie does drama.
Freddie had been away from competitive cricket for a very long time since that summer evening in London. He wrote a book. He traveled around the world. He did a TV show. He boxed on TV. He interviewed Kevin Pietersen for the BBC. He drove around a Fish & Chips van. He had decided competitive cricket would be too much for his body.
Yet, he got the itch again in 2014. He turned up for his club. He played with the Lancashire 2nd XI. He played a couple of T20s in the NatWest tournament taking 3/26 and 2/36. The second of those T20 was on 11th July and since then Freddie hadn’t seen the pitch.
With Jimmy Anderson coming back in to the Lancashire side, the chances of Freddie getting a look in, on Finals Day, were remote. Lancashire easily beat Hampshire in the 2nd semifinal but the seamer Kabir Ali had hurt himself in the match, making way for Freddie.
The universe works in mysterious ways. Freddie works in mysterious ways.
Lancashire stuck to the same script as in the semi final, Steven Croft bowling his off spinners from the Pavilion End and Jimmy Anderson from the City End. But when Freddie is in the picture, the scripts aren’t written for him; he dictates the script.
Horton decides to give Freddie a bowl. Freddie marked his run. Freddie loosened up. Freddie ran in. Freddie bowled.
It was his former England teammate Ian Bell. It was back of the length and Bell tried to hit through the line and loft it over mid on. The ball bounced a bit more than Bell had expected resulting in more height than distance. The mid on fielder made a fair bit of ground and completed a good catch.
A wicket off the first ball he bowls in the final. Freddie knows drama. Freddie does drama. Freddie is drama.