Fabulous Flintoff

I hear that the Lancashire players — including Flintoff — have been urged to play a bigger part in community projects around Old Trafford. This genial giant was the most sought after sportsman of 2005. Add to that a close family, a lovely, intelligent wife and a sunny nature and you will wonder what else FLINTOFF needs to be the happiest man on earth as well as the most talented cricketer in the game today, writes TED CORBETT.

Andrew "Freddie" Flintoff, the hero of every British sporting circle at this moment, is already — at 28 — a rich man with a new house in a fashionable suburb of Manchester, a car as big as a small bungalow and money being thrown at him by everyone who wants to buy into his fame.

This tall, burly, genial giant is BBC Sportsman of the Year — and contrived to wake up cheerful to say thank you at 2 a.m. in Pakistan which is more than you can say about Duncan Fletcher, the England coach and the rest of the team — the most sought after sportsman of 2005 and the player most likely to be nominated captain by acclamation, should anything happen to Michael Vaughan.

Add to that a close family, a lovely, intelligent wife and a sunny nature and you will wonder what else Flintoff needs to be the happiest man on earth as well as the most talented cricketer in the game today. But, hold on, there's more. By the time you read this piece — and certainly by the time he leaves India after the tour that ought to add another notch or two to his belt — Flintoff will also be close to setting a new world record for a benefit.

IN THE MODERN WAY , some of that cash will go to charity and rightly so. Cricket must be seen to have a conscience and I do not doubt Flintoff will be happy to pass on some of his reward to a worthy cause.

I hear that the Lancashire players — including Flintoff — have been urged to play a bigger part in community projects around Old Trafford. Ian Botham set an example 25 years ago by raising millions for young victims of leukaemia and, I am pleased to say, more and more cricketers are following this example.

Now that — thanks to the late Kerry Packer — they all earn decent wages, cricketers can afford these gestures. Though, some of the tributes to the recently departed Packer still showed signs of the old resentment from men with short memories. Unfortunately. A year from now more than one million pounds will have rolled into the swollen coffers of Flintoff's bank account to beat the amazing figures set by Mike Atherton, Alec Stewart, Mark Ramprakash and Graham Thorpe in recent years.

That will not take any effort on Flintoff's part since I assume that he could sit back, announce a benefit and money would roll into his pockets anyway. But he has chosen as his benefit-master one Paul Beck, who managed to raise nearly half a million pounds for Glen Chapple, the Lancashire fast bowler.

Glen Who? He has never played for England and for more than 13 years has done no more than bowl in county cricket at 85 miles an hour.

Chapple bowled six Essex batsmen out for 18 in 1996 NatWest final but for most of his career he has been an unsung hero, never mentioned in the same breath as Brian Statham, and a million miles from the sort of sportsman who gets on the front page of the Sunday papers.

Imagine then what Paul Beck will be able to achieve with Flintoff's personality, not to mention the background of the Ashes and more than 150 Test wickets. Beck has plans for a worldwide benefit with dates in Melbourne and Dubai to ensure Freddie smiles all the way to the bank.

Just as long as it does not take the edge off Flintoff's fast bowling, big hitting and electric catching that will be fine.

Looking back on the trip to Pakistan I have come to the conclusion that England's defeat could be traced to the decision to allow Flintoff, Kevin Pietersen and Steve Harmison to spend three weeks in Australia among the greatest players on the planet for those ill-judged Super Tests and one-day internationals.

It is an understandable mistake and I lay the blame at no-one's door but the truth is that after the emotional effort of winning the Ashes, the prolonged celebrations and the euphoria that swept across the country there was bound to be a reaction.

The trip to Australia clearly took more out of the England trio, although they will feel the benefit later when they review conversations they had with other elite players, when they absorb the lessons of how to bowl in Australia and when their career takes another step forward.

But on those soporific pitches in Pakistan they did not have the intensity or the aggression they had shown to beat Australia in two tight Tests. After the first Test slipped out of their hands in Multan, they lacked the fire required to turn the tables on a team of burgeoning talent but one that's not yet fully developed.

The two months in which Flintoff has been able to concentrate on moving house, Harmison has had a few more training sessions with his beloved Newcastle United and Pietersen has found a cure for his rib muscle injuries will have been a huge benefit. So look out India. Bob Woolmer may say that they are more dangerous than England but on their day Vaughan's valiants will beat anyone, including the side now being resurrected by Greg Chappell.

THERE IS ALSO ONE OTHER bowler who may make all the difference. The most destructive force in the Ashes summer was Simon Jones and if he can steer clear of injury, Jones can be a powerful ally.

He is a deceptive bowler. He runs in slowly, gathers himself into a mighty effort around the crease and sends down a high percentage of balls at 90 miles an hour.

Even standing next to him, you feel that he could tear the average weakling apart with his bare hands and when he bounds through his run up you can sense the sheer athleticism of the man. Don't be deceived. Jones is athletic but so frail that he has never played three successive games for Glamorgan. He would rather sing you a song — in tune too, unusually for a cricketer — than tear you to bits and he rarely takes great handfuls of wickets. Instead he is capable of disrupting a partnership and then adding another couple of victims. Put simply, Jones is more of a `four-wicket grabber' than a `seven-victim star'. And an essential part of the England machine. What a shame then that, like his father Jeff who retired at 26, he gives one the feeling that he is here for a good time and not for a long time. No need to worry about Flintoff, the happy millionaire, on that score. A few weeks at home, a cuddle with his daughter, a couple of beers and a night out with the lads and he will be back to cause mayhem among those foolish enough to challenge his might. If you are not desperate to see the result — Flintoff against that other strong man Tendulkar, Flintoff against the artistry of Dravid or Kumble — then you do not deserve to be a cricket fan.

But I am sure you do.