Tendulkar, Flintoff, Beckham: Life beyond sport

Andrew Flintoff, Sachin Tendulkar and David Beckham have turned retirement into a new career, using their brains to earn a few dollars and, as always, the centre of attention.

Former England football captain and UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador David Beckham plays a game of table tennis with Nepalese children in Kathmandu.   -  AP

Has anyone ever retired from a life of sport and made a bigger success of living than Andrew ‘Freddie’ Flintoff, still an all-rounder long before his 40th birthday as he treads the boards, presents unlikely adventures on television and, most bizarrely of all offers himself as a boxer, but just for the one bout?

(Don’t be fooled. It is not entirely a one-man effort. The new Flintoff has a bunch of professional managers behind him, including his Lancashire buddy Neil Fairbrother, who have handled his personal appearances, overseen his contracts and urged sponsors to remember the most loved cricketer. And by the way there is his wife, a public relations specialist before she married and full of bright ideas.)

That is the key to Flintoff’s success. As an England fast bowler — and he was as quick as anyone 10 years ago — and a big hitter, he was also an agile, close to genius class as a fielder at slip or in the outfield. None of his star quality gave him an ego. He made himself accessible, never lost his Preston accent, told tales of his family without inhibition, laughed, and made sure we all knew he was having a good time while winning matches and Ashes for England.

Heavens, how we miss him now. The team are a more proficient, better drilled side than the one that Nasser Hussain and Michael Vaughan drove to glory around 2005, but where is the elan, the joy, the drive that ferocious Freddie brought to the wicket?

Who would now want to hit two successive sixes to reach his hundred and chuckle when the Indian umpire Venkataraghavan asked: “Is that all the value you place on a Test century?” as he was bowled for 95?

Who could — I for one will never forget it — produce a superb spell of fast bowling to the New Zealand captain Stephen Fleming who already had a one-day century. That sweaty, difficult night Flintoff turned the game on its head.

Looking back it was the greater performance because Freddie was in the middle of his series as captain when his social activities — cricketers read this column so I must be careful not to offend them — spoiled whatever he achieved on the field. Yet, the imp of greatness that lies deep inside all elite players could not be controlled and that night he produced one magic ball after another.

Fast bowling at its best, delivered with a joke; you would pay good money to see that regularly.

 

I remembered all this when I saw him on a BBC cookery programme recently. One night in an Adelaide restaurant he strode over to my table and I thought I had written something to offend him. There was not a mention of the Test series, or the right place for second slip. “Nah then,” he greeted me and my partner Jo King, “have you had your dinner? I’ve been waiting hours” — a tiny exaggeration — “and I’m bloody starving.”

Freddie was the male equivalent of the glamorous girl alongside a magician, just required to stand around and make the occasional witty remark but you could tell the rest of the cast loved having him on set. That same week he was the star of a travel show and a comedy quiz; physically huge as an athlete should be; cheerful, chatty, charming; being Freddie Flintoff.

He is so full of laughs that all his failures with bat and ball, all the defeats before 2005 when he and his mates — sober and one over the eight — captured the hearts of sporting England, are put aside. You will not read a word of criticism in my country of this engaging lad now; he is a celebrity and revelling in it.

Which brings me back to my original question: who has retired to a better life than Flintoff, forever pleased with his books, his TV appearances and his wages, besides his wife and his children, forever a favourite with fans from Old Trafford to Dunedin?

I guess that Sachin Tendulkar lives in some comfort with his pile of rupees and I see almost daily what a wonderful life has opened up for David Beckham, another millionaire who has learnt to smile, to shake the right hands and to speak for English football, promote London as an Olympic venue and use his popularity to good effect with both promising kids and adults that have left talent behind.

These three have turned retirement into a new career, using their brains to earn a few dollars and, as always, the centre of attention.