Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Why like Freddie?

Over at the Guardian, Lawrence Booth has an interesting piece on Andrew Flintoff in an attempt to establish a “The Emperor Has No Clothes” thesis (to wit, he hasn’t been in great form since 2005, and in fact, England have a better win-loss record when he doesn’t play).

Just a few days ago, I had noted that Flintoff was the first English cricketer since Botham and Gower to lay claim to my loyalty and affection. And Tifosi Guy had shown up to make claims similar to those of Lawrence.

So I think I’m compelled at this point to say something more about why I said what I did. Well, its not really that complicated. We all like cricketers whose numbers indicate they aren’t very talented or that they are not doing justice to whatever talent they do have. Carl Hooper might fall into the latter category for instance. And perhaps Kim Hughes falls into the first (for some Aussie fans who absolutely despise him, though for me he falls into the latter). Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference – is “talent” after all, part of being able to make use of your skills? And so on.

But I think it can be made even simpler. We just like watching some cricketers – and it doesn’t matter for how long they are in the middle, or how well they do out there, whether numerically or otherwise. Quite simply, by the way they play or try to play, they bring us pleasure. Sometimes it’s because they play one shot which we replay again and again in our heads. Or perhaps it’s because they, to use a cliché, try their hearts out. Or sometimes it’s because they represent something else that we’ve been hankering for; like, for instance, a fan tired of the silly sledging wars between India and Australia, might take a shine to a honest journeyman who does his bit, keeps a low profile, and doesn’t get caught up in all the nastiness.

I think this is how my “affection” for Flintoff might be best understood. I enjoy watching him bowl; he tries hard, he is hostile most of the time; he often represents a wicket-taking threat even if he doesn’t always get one; because he is a talisman for the Barmy Army, his presence fires up the crowds as well; and when he gets stuck into the opposition, he doesn’t descend into nastiness, but manages to walk a fine line between aggression and humor. What’s not to like? The fact that his numbers are mediocre is simply irrelevant for me.

I watch cricket matches for a lot of reasons. One of them is to be transported, to get the feeling that I’m watching something out of the ordinary. And if some player shows up and promises that, I’m willing to forgive his failures, or at least, make more allowances for him. It might be that Flintoff’s best days are over. It’s entirely possible. His ankle injury, the failed captaincy stint, the tensions with KP, all of these might have just added up to too much. But right now, even as he plays, he threatens, and no one takes him lightly. And sometimes the presence of the threat can be enough to make his presence on the field enjoyable for the fan like me. I used the word “affection” advisedly; it’s not an entirely rational emotion. (And as for "loyalty" I like to see him get out as soon as possible when he plays India)

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good article. This reasoning can be extended to opponents as well. Sanath Jayasuriya is feared even now by opponents because they perceive a threat every time he bats. He might not be too consistent, his average might not be great, but all that is irrelevant till he is at the crease.

Tendulkar has a truckload of runs and centuries, but his presence is hardly feared by opponents anymore, at least in ODIs.

8:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If you were an England fan, though, wouldnt you want him to take more wickets :-)

6:05 AM  
Blogger Q said...

The Pakistanis love Shahid Afridi for the exact same reason.. hell with the numbers!

5:21 PM  
Blogger Tifosi Guy said...


Nice one on the ' why I like Flintoff'.

My only grouse or rather irritation is hearing the English press go on and on about his Ashes 2005 heroics pretty much every time!

Agreed he had an unbelivable 2005 Ashes, but it was a team effort that got England over the line. Simply put, if not for Pietersen's 158 at the Oval and his stand with Giles ( of all the blokes!!!!), the Ashes wouldn't have changed hands :)

I agree the bloke has presence on the field, but I sure wish England stop painting him as their Messiah. I think their Messiah is Pietersen :)

6:00 AM  

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