x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Flintoff: There is a lot left in me

The England all-rounder tells Paul Radley he is not giving up on his ambition to play as much cricket as possible before retirement.

Meet Freddie Freelance: the man who may have re-invented the way top cricketers go about earning a living. Andrew Flintoff, a central figure of the England team, turned down a central contract with the England Cricket Board when he retired from Test cricket after this summer's Ashes win over Australia. He essentially became freelance.

The incremental contract he was offered by the England and Wales Cricket Board of £25,000 (Dh149,700) was too piffling to worry about, and might have meant missing bigger pay-days elsewhere. All of that is, of course, dependent on him recovering from knee surgery, the latest injury in a career sadly blighted by them. He has been without crutches for nearly a week now, and is moving well, despite still having to wear a brace on his right leg.

But rehabilitation during the winter in Dubai probably dictates that a jaunt around the miles of retail space and then trying to find where you parked the car again afterwards, is still beyond him as yet. He leaves the malls of Dubai to his wife and three children. With money already in the bank, as well as two Ashes winners medals, how does he steel himself for the hard toil required to get back to where he wants to be?

"It is not a case of money - it is ambition. There is plenty left in me, and once I do retire, there will be about 50 or 60 years of being retired, hopefully. I want to play as much as I can," he says. "I'm a cricketer. I love it. I've been fortunate enough to play for England in 79 Test matches, I think, and I don't know how many one-dayers. "All I've ever wanted to do is play cricket. At 31, nearly 32, I'm not going to give up that chance while I feel I still have games left in me.

"Before every operation, if I didn't feel I could come back and play to a standard that I want to, I wouldn't do it. There is a lot left in me." As such, Flintoff is not sure about the idea that, as the former England captain Michael Vaughan claimed last week, there needs to be less cricket played in order to improve "the product". "Having missed two-and-a-half years of cricket in four years, I am not going to sit here and say we play too much," he adds. "I want to play as much as I can. I think one of the things you will find is players' careers will be shorter, however the financial rewards are greater.

"If you turn around to a cricketer and say, 'Fine, we'll play less but we will cut your salary,' it would be interesting to see what reaction you would get from that. "I'm sure there is a balance to be found, because it is a gruelling schedule. However, you try to say that to a fella who works 12-hour shifts, that we play too much cricket, and it won't wash." Another player who has suffered from intense scheduling is the fast bowler Steve Harmison, who Flintoff says would have been the first name on his teamsheet for the tour of South Africa starting November 13.

With Flintoff injured, and now retired from the Test game, England will be without their two most hostile bowlers after excluding Harmison from the squad. The temperamental Durham bowler was restored to the line-up as crunch time approached in England's bid to regain the Ashes in the summer. His three quick wickets on the final afternoon at the Oval brought victory to within England's grasp, but he is now deemed surplus to requirements.

"He would have been first on my list. He played in the most important game of the summer, in the last Test match at the Oval, which indicates his merit to the side," says Flintoff. "To not take him away was a bit different, but they want to move in a different direction." Harmison was seething at being overlooked, and South Africa's coach, Mickey Arthur, even said his players were relieved to hear of his omission this week.

Harmison's speed would have come handy in the favourable conditions of South Africa, but the selectors opted instead for his Durham teammates Graham Onions and Liam Plunkett, alongside Stuart Broad, James Anderson and Ryan Sidebottom. There were rumours that Harmison, who is a famously reluctant tourist, was in two minds over making himself available for the trip. Some even predicted he was about to follow his friend Flintoff into Test retirement.

But Harmison is resolved to fighting to regain his place and Flintoff is sure England will not be able to ignore him for long. "He has not retired, so I think that speaks volumes for what he wants to do, he wants to get back in the side," he adds. "He will probably go back to Durham like he did this year, they will win the championship again and he'll be the best bowler and everyone will be talking about him again."

@Email:pradley@thenational.ae For the video interview, visit www.thenational.ae/sport