|Event:||ICC World Cup 2006/07|
DateLine: 2nd March 2007
Most cricket fans, especially when they are young, dream of hitting the world's best bowlers for huge sixes, taking wickets with searingly fast deliveries, holding sharp slip catches, captaining their country to improbable victory and still being thought of as one of the lads by team-mate and opponent alike.
Then they wake up.
But Andrew Flintoff has come as close as anyone in recent times to living that dream and the Lancashire all-rounder's importance to England's World Cup bid cannot be under-estimated.
In an era where batsman increasingly lord it over bowlers in one-day internationals, Flintoff's record of 122 wickets in 115 matches at an average of 26.41 is especially impressive.
Much was made, and rightly, of Paul Collingwood's batting during England's recent 2-0 Tri-Series final victory over world champions Australia. But in the first final it was Flintoff's three for 41 in 9.3 overs that played a vital role in keeping Australia's score in check.
Now England supporters will hope that Flintoff, who has had his fair share of injuries, including most recently a left ankle problem, can stay fit.
Flintoff, nicknamed Freddie after the cartoon character Fred Flinstone by John Stanworth, one of his first coaches at Lancashire, has scored only three hundreds in limited overs internationals.
That can be explained in part by the fact that the 29-year-old often comes in at No 6 in the knowledge that, if he gets out, there is not much batting to come.
But a few quick fifties in the Caribbean could make all the difference. For example, his 72 not out off 75 balls was vital to England three-wicket victory in their Tri-Series match against New Zealand in Hobart in January.
"Freddie had an outstanding game," said Michael Vaughan.
"We have seen a guy that can win us games and that's great for us to have."
Indeed it is but is it also great for Flintoff to be England captain? With Vaughan injured, he led England during their 5-0 Ashes thrashing by Australia. At the time many wondered if, as happened to England all-round great Ian Botham, the captaincy was proving a needless additional burden to the side's star player.
And long after the Ashes, which Flintoff had done so much to wrest from Australia's grasp in 2005, were lost, England coach Duncan Fletcher said of his skipper: "I do believe there is a lot to ask of him, especially with a young, inexperienced side where you've got to do a lot of captaining."
But when Vaughan was injured soon after his return in the one-day series, the captaincy reverted to Flintoff.
Those close to him have often spoken of his good cricket brain and this was seen in the way he shrewdly used Monty Panesar to good effect and didn't panic when the left-arm spinner was hit to the boundary.
(Article: Copyright © 2007 AFP)
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