A fair, extended trial needed

Published : Aug 23, 2003 00:00 IST

ANDREW FLINTOFF'S brilliant 142 in the second Test against South Africa confirms the great natural talent of this big man.


ANDREW FLINTOFF'S brilliant 142 in the second Test against South Africa confirms the great natural talent of this big man.

Unfortunately this great ability has taken too long to flourish and much of the blame for his slow development must be laid squarely on the shoulders of the English selectors.

I had the good fortune to work with Andrew when I coached Lancashire in 2000-01. I was immediately struck by his unique natural talent and deep love for the game.

In an era when it doesn't appear "cool" to be enthusiastic, Andrew's love and infatuation with cricket was obvious. While to some he appears to be a little overweight and lackadaisical, I never saw him that way.

Body size doesn't always worry me and I am more concerned whether at the end of the day the player is still going full blast.

Andrew could certainly do this and always bowled his full quota of overs and was always putting in at the end of a long hot day.

He had been picked for England when I first worked with him and while he was showing promise the English selectors dropped him and announced he was too heavy.

In addition they didn't bother to personally contact him and explain what they wanted.

I was so concerned with this treatment that I took the opportunity to speak to David Graveney, the chairman of the English selectors, when he was watching Lancashire play Leicestershire and suggested that he speak to "big Freddie".

Graveney thought this was a good idea and promised to talk to him while he was in Leicester. He didn't and young Andrew had to endure an unfair touch of media blitz, queering his fitness and whether he deserved to be in the English team.

At the same time it appeared that leaks were being fed to the media from people in responsible positions.

While Flintoff displayed commendable fortitude and seemed to retain his happy upbeat nature, I am sure this treatment left him wondering just where he fitted in the English international structure. And obviously delayed the development of his game.

He was particularly wary of the demands to get fitter. Not because he wasn't prepared to work hard, but because he had received conditioning advise in the winter of 1999-2000, which had caused him to lose his throwing ability.

Prior to this he had probably one of the strongest throwing arms in the game. Unfortunately he was advised to go on a very rigorous training programme, which included a good deal of weight training.

The result was that his shoulders bulked up so much that he didn't have the flexibility to throw with his old action and was virtually shot-putting the ball which could barely reach the stumps from three quarters of the way to the boundary.

I was horrified with this and immediately began working on his throwing action to restore flexibility. It took a long time, as it did for him to overcome back injuries created by a faulty mixed bowling action.

With the assistance of former England bowler, and my assistant coach at Lancashire, Mike Watkinson, Andrew was encouraged to bowl with a more front on delivery action.

His great natural talent soon grasped the changes needed and it wasn't long before he was comfortable with this style. Almost straight away his back problems were solved and his accuracy was a great deal better without losing any of his pace.

He is now a formidable bowler and while he hasn't grabbed a hatful of wickets he has been one of England's better bowlers, though the most unlucky.

On the perfect batting wicket at Lord's, when the batsmen scored well over six hundred runs, he had five catches dropped by butter fingered fielders.

As they say in England, he bowls a heavy ball at well over a consistent 80 miles per hour.

While this is brisk, his greatest gift is the amount of lift he gains from his towering 6 ft 5 inches and consistently hits the splice of the bat.

Like most fast bowlers these days he is generally a yard too short.

This means inevitably, if the ball does something off the pitch, by the time it reaches the batsman it has cut too much and doesn't take the edge of the bat.

In addition if you don't pitch the ball up you cannot swing it.

Bruce Reid, all 6 ft 8 inches, was another very tall bowler who could not find the edge of the bat because he bowled too short of a length and was described as an unlucky bowler as batsmen played and missed.

It was amazing how quickly this tag disappeared when he pitched the ball further up and found he was finding the edge with greater regularity.

While Flintoff's bowling was admired at Lord's, it was his batting that caught the imagination of the public and critics. This thrilling innings with so many fours and sixes could have misled many to feel he was just a slogger.

He certainly hits the ball with great power from a very full swing of the bat, but he is more than a hit and miss merchant and he has a very sound technique.

Sometimes he is too impatient, but he is now beginning to control this vital aspect of his game. To my mind he is a batting all-rounder rather than the other way round as he is now being used by England.

By doing this it generally means he is batting a little low and therefore psychologically tends not to build an innings.

It would also bring out a greater responsibility in him as he realises the captain and selectors have faith in his batting. He could bat as high as number 5 but at this stage six or even seven should be the lowest position he bats at.

He needs and thrives on responsibility and if David Graveney and his fellow selectors had backed him, as they should have done in his early internationals he would have, by now, played in double the internationals he now has and his cricket would be far more mature, developed and successful.

What a pity for England that their selectors are still not prepared to back the youngsters and give them a fair extended trial to allow them the best chance to succeed.

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