Not since the days of Ian Botham have the hopes and dreams of a nation’s cricket fans rested so squarely on one man. Luckily for Freddie Flintoff his shoulders are broad enough to deal with the responsibility.
Whether blasting the ball to all corners of the ground with his bat, scaring the life out of batsmen with the ball or catching anything hit near him, Flintoff is a man you just cannot keep quiet. No one feels the importance of the game more than him, no one strains harder or pushes themselves further in pursuit of glory for England.
In 2005 Flintoff followed in the footsteps of his hero Ian Botham by inspiring England to Ashes glory on home soil. Just like Botham’s Ashes of 1981 England had a strong team, but there was no doubting who the talisman was.
A string of magnificent performances from the fired-up Flintoff led Australian coach John Buchanan to crown him Man of the Series.
To be fair Buchanan had no choice but to nominate the Lancastrian. His bowling throughout the tournament was some of the most menacing ever seen on these shores.
Yet it was not all about aggression. Freddie married that menace with unerring accuracy and a number of masterful bowling plans which he executed to perfection.
Adam Gilchrist was the most dangerous batsman in the Australian line-up, a man who can take a Test Match away from his opponents in just an hour with his destructive hitting. He averaged just 22 in the series and Flintoff was the reason why.
Freddie had done his homework and targeted the left-hander from around the wicket with spells of relentlessly accurate fast bowling. Gilchrist could not handle it; Fred had his number. He took the southpaw’s wicket four times in the series and even in the innings he did not claim the scalp himself he never failed to unsettle the keeper.
It was not just with the ball that Flintoff shone in the tournament. In the second test at Edgbaston he smashed Botham’s record of six sixes in an Ashes Test. He hit five in the first innings and a further four in the second.
Over the match he hit 141 runs and took seven wickets in a textbook all-rounder performance. He averaged over 40 for the series and played pivotal innings at Trent Bridge and The Oval.
In the wake of their Ashes victory the England team were national heroes and the biggest plaudits were reserved for Flintoff, who celebrated accordingly. The Preston lad won the Freedom of his Home City, was BBC Sports Personality of the Year and received an MBE for his efforts.
England’s form and Flintoff’s fitness have been inconsistent since but with momentum gaining under Andrew Strauss’ captaincy and Freddie confident of being fully fit for the Ashes, who would bet against the big man doing it again against the old enemy in 2009.