On the tenth anniversary of England’s epic victory in The Ashes, MAN London meets the series’ field marshal Freddie Flintoff to discuss strategy, celebration and the sweet taste of success.
Cricket has captured the nation; I’m not sure the sport will ever get to that level again.” Michael Vaughan’s words, uttered as England celebrated Ashes victory in 2005, still ring true.
How could anything eclipse that?
Two teams had stood toe-to-toe in an epic, gladiatorial encounter that spanned the summer and had the nation enthralled. It was the stuff of heroes and the biggest of all was Andrew “Freddie” Flintoff. Ask him today whether he realised how momentous it was at the time and he demurs.
Freddie Flintoff and The Ashes
“Not really. Each match was getting bigger and better but I was just enjoying it. It was my first Ashes series and I just thought, ‘This is how it usually is,’ although ‘usually’ meant us losing.”
England had not won the Ashes for 18 years leading up to the series and it looked like the losing streak was going to be extended after the first Test. With London just gathering itself in the wake of the 7/7 terror attack, the Aussies battered England at Lord’s.
Flintoff’s reaction was to pack his bags and spend a week in Devon. “I didn’t train or do anything much but reflect,” he says. “I felt I’d put too much pressure on myself so I decided I was going to play on my own terms.”
Come the Second Test at Edgbaston, shaven-headed Freddie was reborn. He hit nine sixes in two innings of 68 and 73 and took seven wickets. One unplayable over in which he nailed Justin Langer and Ricky Ponting ranks among the best ever.
You can build up sport and talk about all the hours of training but luck plays a massive part and I had loads in that test
“You can build up sport and talk about all the hours of training but luck plays a massive part and I had loads in that test,” Flintoff concedes. “I got off the mark chipping one over mid-off that could easily have been out, then I got Ponting after a no-ball. But the stars were aligning for us as a team. After that game, we thought. ‘We can do this!’ If we’d lost we’d have gone down five-nil.”
Bringing The Ashes back home
With all square, the Aussies then dug in for a draw at Old Trafford. Flintoff packed his bags again.“I went to the south of France and chilled, which meant I had no idea how much anticipation was building,” he says. “In fact, I recall how relaxed we all were. We had started to behave like the better team.”
Following a sparkling debut century from a skunk-haired Kevin Pietersen at the Oval, the Ashes were duly returned. A quarter of a million people turned out for the open-top bus parade in London. By the time the team reached Downing Street, some were bladdered; Simon Jones relieved himself in the No.10 garden as Matthew Hoggard played on the climbing frame.
One enduring image of that series remains – Flintoff, dropping to one knee to put an arm round Brett Lee at Edgbaston. “It looked like I was consoling him but I was actually saying, ‘Take that, you Aussie b*****d,’” he later quipped. (This may not be true.)
“I was taught three things as a youngster,” Flintoff reveals. “Walk when you’re out, shake hands with the opposition and always thank the umpires. I never did the first but I made sure I did the other two. For me, it’s about the spirit the game’s played in.”
When Flintoff retired, Lee described his former adversary as “an absolute beauty”. How right he was, and how we need Flintoff now. ML
Freddie Flintoff’s 2nd Innings Tour is on until November. andrewflintoffofficial.co.uk
Q&A – Matthew Hoggard
The former England seamer took the first wicket in the 2005 Ashes victory, but his prediction for this summer’s series makes grim reading.
How do you think this England compares to the squad of 2005?
It should be an exciting new era but it doesn’t feel that way. The Kevin Pietersen debacle just rumbles on. I can’t believe how the ECB can get it so wrong. The new coach was effectively told, “Alastair Cook is captain, Joe Root is vice-captain, Eoin Morgan is one-day captain and you can’t pick Kevin Pietersen.” Yet he is accountable for the results. Stupid is the word.
How do you rate this Aussie side?
They have a fantastic fast-bowling attack. Two very quick left armers in Mitchell Johnson and Mitchell Starc, plus Ryan Harris and some decent back-up. Our batters have shown how frail they can be against pace. It’s daunting.
Does our bowling hold the same threat?
Jimmy Anderson is England’s best bowler ever and he is still going strong. When Stuart Broad bowls at 90mph, he can be devastating but if his pace drops he is less of a threat. We need Steven Finn or Mark Footitt from Derbyshire, a left-armer to add some variety.
Will we get enough runs on the board?
We seem to have a blend of experience and youth but the opening partnership should have been given much longer. The experienced guys need to lead by example. Take Ian Bell. On form, he is a fantastic batsman but he needs a good series or he’s gone.
In 2005, we squared up to the Aussies. Does this team have the guts?
Back in 2005, we had a pact: we weren’t going to get bullied or go into our shell but this England team looks stifled. The Aussies are on a roll and Darren Lehmann gives them licence to entertain.
Can we win the sledging war?
You can’t be gobby unless you back it up. You have to follow words with performance. The Aussies are good at that. If you let a dig get to you then maybe it has a point. You need to have the self-belief to tell them they’re talking out their backsides and then prove it.
I feel very gloomy about things… 0-5. I hope I’m wrong. MP
Matthew Hoggard is embarking on the Great Swim Challenge for HIV/AIDS awareness and charity Cricket Without Boundaries. To sponsor him, go to virginmoneygiving.com.matthewhoggard