“It is a good toss to lose,” commentators sometimes say cheerfully when a captain is thus saved the embarrassment of having to make a decision. Given the many hours of entertainment that Andrew Flintoff has provided cricket lovers around the world, it is unlikely that anyone will say (at least publicly) that his is a “good injury to have.” At 31, Flintoff, who might well be the last of the world class all rounders for a while, has decided that Test cricket is not for him.
But any tear-shedding and cluck-clucking will have to wait. Or be tempered by the thought that the former England captain is likely to make more money without the distraction of playing Test cricket. Later in the year when his former colleagues are in South Africa for Test matches, Flintoff is likely to be playing Twenty20 for Queensland in Australia. It is unlikely that he will be needed for the tour of Bangladesh, and so will be happy to turn out for his team in the IPL. It is, as Jeeves would have said, a happy concatenation of circumstances.
When the IPL was first mooted, the International Cricket Council made it clear that it would not entertain players who quit the game for the express purpose of playing the more lucrative Twenty20 tournament in India. Flintoff’s case is different. He felt the strain of bowling some 35 overs in three days of the Cardiff Test, and that may have hastened the decision.
And like most modern stars (Steve Waugh, Sourav Ganguly), he has given himself a chance to be feted at each of the venues at which he will be playing his ‘last’ Test. Fair enough. Anything that puts bums on seats. And allows panting business houses to sign him up for endorsements. Off-field gamesmanship is as popular (and important) as the on-field one.
The man who turned the 2005 Ashes series brings to the game an excitement that few do. That performance (402 runs at 42 apiece, 27 wickets) will remain the high water mark of a career which saw him finish a few rungs below his expected perch on the ladder of great all rounders despite 3500 runs and over 200 wickets.
A fondness for living life to the fullest and a series of injuries meant that the figures didn’t match the talent of a performer who bowled, batted and fielded with an exuberance that endeared him to fans around the world. But with Flintoff it was a total package – take away the joie de vivre, and you probably took away the performances too.
It isn’t over yet, of course.. Flintoff can play the shorter versions of the game with a clear conscience and a swelling bank account. He hopes to play the 2011 World Cup in the subcontinent, and might well turn out to be the leader of a new breed of players – those who, for whatever reason, focus on Twenty20 and 50-over games and turn their backs on Test cricket.
Pakistan Shahid Afridi once said he was happy to give up Test cricket and concentrate on the shorter game, and more recently Chris Gayle of the West Indies has said he is happier ignoring Tests altogether.
The authorities do not look upon such honesty kindly. It is politically correct to support Test cricket even if your heart is with the other formats. Increasingly, players are likely to make the choice Flintoff has made. In his case, the decision might not have been a purely financial one. But it was a good toss to lose, as they say.