Big man, BIGGER DEEDS

We have entered the era of Freddie. Hold on to your hats. It is going to be a bumpy ride, writes Ted Corbett.

You could tell Freddie had a drink in him. A good drink I'd say, and why not. Earned it, beating India by a lakh of runs with half a team. I mean who'd believe it.

He said at the Press conference he would be taking a few beers with the lads in the dressing room after he'd finished talking to us and then going back to the hotel for a few more and then, well, he wouldn't say.

But the wise knew that he was going home to see the new baby — his first boy Corey — who was only 15 days old. So I suppose he was still wetting the baby's head, as they say, but I guess, being Freddie, he'll go on doing that for a while.

I guess there is a sort of deal with one of those celebrity magazines to get the first pictures of him and Rachael and Holly, their little girl, and the latest baby. Rachael was a public relations girl before she met Freddie at a party and she knows how these things work. I also see little things she has suggested to him to keep him in the limelight. See him come out to bat, especially at Lord's or one of the big grounds, and he's got his helmet off so the sun shines on those golden locks. Well, not locks really, because sometimes his hair is too short, but with his helmet in his hand and walking slow towards the middle, there is no doubt who it is. A photographer's dream is Freddie, like Ian Botham was, although Freddie is more willing, more at ease with himself. Now after his first win as Test captain in his third match Freddie is the man.

Just think what he has achieved. At the start of this tour he and Father Christmas had about the same chance of being England captain, then Michael Vaughan gets injured and Marcus Trescothick disappears off the radar and suddenly big, daft Freddie is in charge. That's what I used to call him three or four years ago when he was 17st 12lb, when he was taking a lot more food and drink and when he never seemed sure if he ought to hit his first ball into the crowd as a statement of intent. Then he changed which makes me wonder if I owe him an apology.

Meeting Rachael, being shouted at by Neil Fairbrother who comes from the same part of Lancashire and calls a spade a bloody shovel when the mood is on him and suddenly the light got through to the brain. How he changed. Now, as Geoff Boycott tells us every time we switch on the telly, he never bowls a bad spell, and as Rahul Dravid reminded us, he is always at the batsman. Nothing unpleasant — he's not Glenn McGrath — but just letting the man with the armguard know he has to pay attention. In South Africa and again against the Aussies he seemed to own his own force field as we say in his home town of Preston — not the sort of place you would expect to provide a champion sportsman, because they all walk a bit slow and it rains all the time and to be honest it's a bit dowdy — and in Pakistan this winter you can see he is bubbling.

But here, it's 264 runs at 55.80, five innings all over 40 which is just about ideal for a No. 6 although he says he wishes he turned one of those innings into a hundred, and 11 wickets at 30.54 which is great from first change bowler. Of course when his big pal Steve Harmison gets shin splints Freddie takes the new ball.

Just as effective, just as aggressive in a very polite Preston sort of way, and what an inspiration to his side. I go back a long way with England captains. Bob Willis who is `hail fellow' one day and `who the hell are you' the next. David Gower, laid back to the point of being unconscious. Mike Gatting, the helpful, friendly, knowledgeable, Graham Gooch, a bit of a grump, Mike Atherton, more grumpy still. Alec Stewart, the best dressed of them all. Nasser Hussain, good fun if you could stand the fire in his belly, and Michael Vaughan, quiet, sure of himself, the best captain in the world, according to guru Boycott and Marcus Trescothick, down to earth, plain spoken, difficult to judge on two matches. And now Freddie. If you are a kid from the `A' team like Alastair Cook, or a not quite up to it all-rounder like Ian Blackwell, or a comeback kid like James Anderson, you have got to see Freddie as your saviour. Or a new lad like Monty Panesar, not quite certain of your place, or older like Shaun Udal, or on the verge of disaster all the time like the wicket-keeper Geraint Jones. I cannot imagine Freddie getting cross, just encouraging people. He was always first to put his arms round somebody, tell them a dropped catch was part of the game, or shout "bloody marvellous" in their left ear after they held on to a blinder.

He may be 16st and 6ft 4in but he is as quick as lightning when it comes to giving a team-mate a cuddle either of congratulation or commiseration.

On the night of the Test victory, he was giving a lot of people a cuddle. At the end of the Press conference he hugged that huge man Mike Selvey who played his last Test as a fast bowler in Mumbai and then turned to reporting for The Guardian and who must have said "well done Freddie".

Back in the hotel he was cuddling another reporter from a tabloid that has not always been sympathetic to the old, `let's have another round' Freddie and then he spotted me and said: "Not saying owt, Ted."

That's Preston talk for "Aren't you going to offer your congratulations too?" I said "Well done, skipper" — that last word always pleases him — and he got hold of my hand with a grip that a lumberjack might use if he wanted to twist a redwood tree out of the Canadian Rockies and said: "It were all reet, weren`t it?" and gave my arm one last wrench and headed for his travel agent.

He was on his way home to give his little girl Holly, his idol, a hug and then a rather gentler cuddle for the little baby before, just a couple of days later, he flies back to deal with whatever India throw at him in the one-day international series. By the way you can imagine he is a marvellous father. Kids love anyone that size and besides he has grown up in the sort of family that loves being together. He goes home to see his parents whenever he can, which is often.

If Vaughan does not return to full fitness, this victory may be the start of a new era, in which not only will Andrew "Freddie" Flintoff prove himself to be England's greatest cricketer, when his presence alone will win Tests, but when he rivals the footballers David Beckham and Wayne Rooney or the tennis aces Tim Henman and Andrew Murray for cash and for superstardom.

We have entered the era of Freddie. Hold on to your hats. It is going to be a bumpy ride.