DateLine: 17th April 2009
Andrew Flintoff has established himself as England's greatest all-round cricketer since the days of Ian Botham producing a succession of wholehearted and inspirational performances and his high point came when he carried his team to glory in arguably the greatest Ashes series of all time in 2005. It was a performance that reverberated around the globe, and propelled Flintoff to the sort of superstar status that his many admirers had always believed was within his grasp, but had often despaired of him ever achieving. His precocious skills and size led to a Test debut at the age of 20, but two years later he was struggling with his weight and his motivation, barely able to bowl because of persistent back problems, and barely worth a place in the Lancashire seconds. In 2001, he was given an ultimatum by his management team, and requested to be sent to Rod Marsh's ECB Academy. It gave him the motivation he needed, and during that winter's India tour, he was a reformed character. Despite being found out by India's spinners, he picked up a maiden Test century against New Zealand and was an integral factor in a successful home summer in 2002.
He came of age in the Test series against South Africa, thumping a therapeutic 95 in England's remarkable comeback at The Oval to go with a defiant century at Lord's, and produced a starring role in England's series win in the Caribbean, where he learned at last to slip the handbrake and become a genuine attacking option with the ball. He single-handedly inspired England to a two-run victory over Australia at Edgbaston, in one of the greatest Tests of all time, followed up with a maiden Ashes hundred at Trent Bridge, sealed the series with a marathon five-wicket haul at The Oval. By now, he was a global superstar to bracket alongside Sachin Tendulkar or Shane Warne. He stepped into the breach to captain England on an injury-plagued tour of India in March 2006 - and inspired his side to a series-levelling win at Mumbai - but within four months he was out of action once again.
Flintoff was put in charge for the Ashes in 2006-07 - a desperate campaign that resulted in a 5-0 thumping. Though he atoned in part by leading England to a surprise victory in the subsequent one-day CB Series, he was disciplined by the England management for his excessive drinking and at the subsequent World Cup stripped of the vice-captaincy after drunkenly capsizing a pedalo in St Lucia following England's defeat to New Zealand.
He continued to pound away with the ball, visibly discomforted by his ankle problem, but his efforts with the bat became embarrassing. He didn't feature in any of England's seven Tests of the 2007 summer. But at Headingley he returned to the fray against South Africa, after an 18-month Test hiatus. Though his influence couldn't stave off a ten-wicket defeat, the pace of his bowling was not in question and nor, for the time being, was his fitness. By the time he had been named Man of the Series in England's thumping 4-0 ODI win over South Africa, he was returning rapidly to his very, very best. His status as one of the biggest players in the game was confirmed with his $1.55 million IPL contract.