Comment: Andrew Flintoff’s return is exactly the spark domestic cricket needs… but it’s unlikely to last

Arguably the most charismatic and box-office player in the history of English cricket is making his return.

Andrew ‘Freddie’ Flintoff has confirmed he is coming back to play for Lancashire in the Natwest T20 Blast competition.

England’s iconic 2005 Ashes hero has had to overcome the knee injury which ended his career after the final Ashes match in 2009 as well as having reconstructive surgery on his shoulder which he suffered in his debut as a professional boxer.

In his pomp, Flintoff was a devastatingly effective bowler and a destructive batsman – playing the all-rounder role which England have failed to replace since his departure.

It is unlikely that the fast bowler – capable of hitting 90mph at his peak – will be able to produce the level of performance he managed the last time he was on a cricket field.

At 36, and with an injury record even Owen Hargreaves winces at, Flintoff can surely not realistically expect to make a long-lasting return to the game.

He has claimed that he does not want to return for just one season and is keen to emulate the likes of Brad Hodge, Brad Hogg and Lancashire teammate Glen Chapple who have all carried on playing at far older ages than Flintoff is now.

The truth is that his injury record will not allow that to happen and his return will not be as triumphant as he hopes.

What is for sure though is that the return of ‘Freddie’ will pull in crowds to Lancashire’s T20 games at Old Trafford – providing the spark that the domestic competition and the club need.

Flintoff is pure entertainment and cricket lovers across the country will be ecstatic to see the talismanic figure charging in to bowl again.

Perhaps it is due to his reputation as a ‘normal bloke’ that gives him such enduring appeal.

Not many top level sportsmen can fall off a pedalo drunk as England captain at a World Cup in the West Indies and still emerge as a national hero.

It is as much for his off-field antics and behaviour as his on field brilliance that makes Flintoff the icon that he is.

Since quitting the game in 2009, the Preston-born star has taken on numerous projects, including being a team captain on BAFTA-winning sports panel show A League of Their Own and taking on a career (albeit short-lived) as a professional boxer.

These projects have further enhanced the legend of Flintoff – a legacy that was forged predominantly because of his performances and conduct in the 2005 Ashes series.

The lasting image of that series will always be Flintoff consoling Aussie paceman Brett Lee after the infamous Edgbaston Test.

2005 was also when Flintoff was at the peak of his powers, most notably with the ball where his pace and aggression were often too much for even the mighty Australia to handle.

If he can produce that kind of form again on this return, Lancashire will have a formidable T20 outfit.

This return makes Lancashire the biggest name in county cricket – with England stars James Anderson and Jos Buttler also on their books.

The Red Rose have one of the most impressive grounds in the country after the redevelopment of Old Trafford and also boast a host of young talents – making them the most interesting proposition in domestic cricket.

Whether this return may hamper the development of such young stars is another question.

Flintoff will inevitably grab the headlines whether his return is successful or not and given the fanfare around his comeback, it is unlikely that Lancashire will leave him out of the side in favour of one of their younger players.

What is guaranteed is increased interest in the club and in the domestic game which is what is so badly needed.

Flintoff back in a Lancashire shirt will bring a welcome boost to the coffers at Old Trafford as well as providing a buzz and an excitement to the T20 competition.

The man is one of the few genuinely box office stars in the sport and while he is often a walking wounded, he is a true cricketing icon and everybody who loves the game will be relishing his return.

Main image courtesy of Cricket World via YouTube, with thanks.

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