Yabba dabba don't
Statistically, it's no great loss. Since 2005 England have performed far better without Andrew Flintoff in the side than when he's been fit but it's signal of a malaise that goes far deeper than statistics and I sincerely hope the morons running the EWCB (and the other morons running world cricket, especially in India but not, surprisingly, in Australia) realise what they've done.
Flintoff is a proper cricketer. Obvious? No. He's not a cricketer because he wears white clothes and goes out and hits a ball with a flat stick, it's because he has a peculiar talent that anyone who's watched cricket for a long time will recognise: presence. He's a good batsman with a decent technique and a properly aggressive and genuinely fast strike bowler but it's that quality you can't see that 99% of the journeymen currently toiling the world's greenswards don't possess that is the reason why idiots like me love the game so much. Watch a match with him in it and you never know what's going to happen. A moment of sublime genius, an application of skill and technique way beyond the capacity of mortals, is always just about to happen - the unplayable ball that cuts a batsman in half off a length; an effortless pick up of a good length ball into the second tier or the catch out of nothing. In my lifetime I've been lucky enough to watch at first hand players of the quality of Viv Richards, Ian Botham, Alan Knott, David Gower, Clive Lloyd, Shane Warne, Derek Underwood, Kapil Dev, Imran Khan, Barry Richards and Mike Proctor, all of whom could, in the space of 15 minutes of astounding ability or outrageous invention, turn a game through 180 degrees and make you tingle with anticipation. There's a few missing I know but there are also precious few from the modern game. Why?
The reason is the same one Flintoff is crocked and won't risk himself over 5 days. Money. Greed. They (sponsors, not the players although some are just as guilty) all wanted their pound of flesh and the EWCB were happy to cave in. There's no conditioning on the county grind when you're under contract to a dodgy banker or a Bollywood poptart. There's precious little reward for average cricketers in the county game but if you want 11 cavemen with 3lb clubs bludgeoning everything in sight into floodlight pylons and spinners bowling negatively into the rough as your adrenaline fix because you're so conditioned to having everything you do served up in handy easily digestible bite-sized portions, go to America, have your brain removed and watch baseball or buy a Sky dish and settle down to watch 20/20 for half an hour of synthesised mush. But don't for the life of me ever tell me you're watching cricket otherwise I shall be forced to kill you. Slowly. If you want to see a cricket match, take a couple of days off work and watch a county game. It might be a bit boring in places but that's the game. You can only play chess with 32 pieces and 64 squares. Stay with it, pump your money into that and invest it in proper talent instead of paying off Murdoch's sleaze fines for him. For my money, I would rather see someone who could mimic an effortless David Gower extra-cover drive (without a helmet on) than any ten-a-penny pinch-hitter. The wonderful thing about a 6 was that it was a rarity and a surprise, not an expectation. I mean, they even pull the boundaries in to make sixes easier to hit! When I used to watch cricket at the Oval, once one of the biggest grounds in the world, it took supreme timing or strength to clear the ropes, now I reckon even I could do it. Having said that, most 20/20 games appear to be the cricket equivalent of tip and run or touch-rugby where quick singles are the order of the day. What on earth is exciting about two teams getting 140 and nobody able to build a century? I really don't get it.
I'm old, aren't I.