Andrew Flintoff is closing in on a return to domestic cricket after being selected to play for Lancashire’s second team on Thursday.
The England great is set to feature in the Lightning’s NatWest T20 Blast plans this season after almost five years away from the game.
But just what is it that makes the big-hitting all-rounder so special? And why is there so much interest in his comeback? We look back at the moments which have defined Flintoff’s career and has led to his name becoming one of the most recognisable in British sport.
Remember the last time?
Flintoff’s last appearance for Lancashire in any form of the game came in a Twenty20 clash with Derbyshire in June 2009. Although it was not known at the time that retirement was beckoning, the contest proved to be a fitting send-off for the Preston-born player.
After winning the toss, Lancashire posted a club-record total of 220-5 from their 20 overs, with Flintoff being the major contributor. The Lightning were already fairly well set on 70-3 when he came to the crease, but the England star took the innings to another level with a sensational knock of 93 which certainly caught the eye just two weeks before the start of an Ashes series.
It took just 41 balls for Flintoff to compile the score, smashing nine fours and clobbering six sixes at the County Ground in Derby. He then chipped in with two wickets as Derbyshire fell well short in their run chase.
Coming on strong
Flintoff was already a well-known name by the summer of 2000 having played both Test and one-day international cricket for England, but the then 22-year-old had not yet shown what he was truly capable of on the biggest stage. But if there were any doubts over his position in the national side, Lancashire’s NatWest Trophy quarter-final against Surrey went some way towards erasing them.
Flintoff came to the crease with his side sat at 0-1 in the opening over after Michael Atherton had been removed for a duck, but the powerful youngster proceeded to mow down Surrey’s target of 211. Flintoff sent the ball to the ropes 19 times and cleared them on four occasions as he blasted 135 from just 111 balls at The Oval. The innings was Flintoff’s big arrival in front of the Sky television cameras and he would soon be performing similar feats for England.
Flintoff is of course known as much, if not more, for his bowling prowess as his batting abilities. With the white ball in hand, his greatest performance for England probably came in the last one-day international he played for his country. A tumultuous winter in 2008-09 had already seen Kevin Pietersen quit the captaincy and Peter Moores depart as coach, but Flintoff inspired an ODI series victory in the West Indies to restore some cheer to the set-up.
After rain had reduced the deciding contest to 29 overs each, England set a total of 172-5 and defended it in some style, with Flintoff to the fore. The seamer struck at the top of the innings, removing both Lendl Simmons and Ramnaresh Sarwan, but it was the way in which he finished off the tail which proved most dramatic.
With the Windies still in with a shout in the 27th over, Flintoff bowled Denesh Ramdin round his legs, trapped Ravi Rampaul lbw and skittled the bails of Sulieman Benn in successive balls for his only international hat-trick. He finished with his best one-day figures of 5-19.
Pounding the Proteas
Despite his achievements in limited-overs formats, it is Flintoff’s Test heroics which have secured his status as an England cricketing legend. The first five years of his Test career was a tale of unfulfilled promise and injury setbacks, but the series against South Africa in the summer of 2003 turned all of that around.
It was in the second Test at Lord’s where Flintoff made his name in the longest format of the game. Although South Africa won the match by an innings and 92 runs, Flintoff’s belligerent 142 from 146 balls on the final day lifted the spirits of both the dressing room and the healthy crowd in attendance at the home of cricket. The innings, which contained 18 fours and five sixes, was the standout performance of an impressive series for Flintoff. England cricket had found its new star.
There is no doubt that Flintoff’s defining performance came in the second Test of the 2005 Ashes series, where one of the nation’s most spectacular cricketers won the man of the match award in one of the most exciting matches of all time. His performance with the bat was impressive enough, a rapid knock of 68 helping England to a first-innings total of 407 before an effort of 73 from 86 balls rescued the hosts from disaster in the second innings. He hit a total of nine sixes in the match.
But he arguably had an even bigger impact with the ball. He was clearly on form after three wickets in the first innings but his bowling in the second was a sensation. With Australia on 47-0 chasing 282, Flintoff had Justin Langer bowled and Ricky Ponting caught behind in an amazing over which electrified the Birmingham crowd.
Two more scalps gave him figures of 4-79 and, if all that was not enough, he was also a part of one of the most famous cricketing images ever as he consoled a crestfallen Brett Lee after England had scraped a two-run victory.
Flintoff saved his best until last in his Twenty 20 and one-day international careers, and he also produced one of his signature moments in his final Test match. With Australia the opposition again, Flintoff’s moment of magic gave England the inspiration to win the decisive fifth Test of the 2009 Ashes series at The Oval.
This time his efforts with both bat and ball were modest, but one piece of fielding changed the complexion of the game. Australia were well set on 217-2, trying to hold on for a draw which would have seen them retain the urn, until Flintoff picked up the ball from mid-on and slung in a direct hit to run out captain Ricky Ponting at the striker’s end. Two more wickets followed in quick succession and the tail could not see it out to the end.
Not for the first time, it was a perfect farewell for Freddie.