x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Freddie is leading the way

The England cricket hero Andrew Flintoff says he may not be the only top cricketer who pitches camp in the UAE.

Andrew Flintoff, centre, is planning ahead as he becomes a freelance cricketer but he can look back to happy memories of the Ashes series.
Andrew Flintoff, centre, is planning ahead as he becomes a freelance cricketer but he can look back to happy memories of the Ashes series.

Andrew Flintoff says he may not be the only top cricketer who pitches camp in the UAE - both as a base to play in one day and T20 events worldwide and to launch coaching careers. With one eye on life after his playing career ends, the England hero has offered to assist the UAE national team and the International Cricket Council's (ICC) Global Cricket Academy after he completes his rehabilitation programme in Dubai.

Having rejected an incremental contract with the England Cricket Board (ECB), the Emirates will also be a focal point for Freddie's "freelance career" when he gets back to fitness, which is almost certain to include lucrative short-term deals in other leagues such as Australia and South Africa. Other players, like the West Indian Chris Gayle, are being tipped to follow suit, and Flintoff, who is contracted to the English county side Lancashire and Chennai Super Kings in the Indian Premier League, endorses it as a plan for fellow cricketers.

"I think there's a queue of other cricketers wanting to spend time in Dubai and to do some coaching too. In Dubai, cricket is on tap," he says. "The population includes Pakistanis, Indians and Sri Lankans and they love it. Everywhere you go they are talking about cricket. UAE cricket can thrive by having these people over there helping out. Cricket could be huge and they could build a good team. "Since I've been there, I've been using Dubai Sports City's facilities and it's got everything I need.

"Once I'm back on my feet, I'm going to need someone to practise with and if I can help the UAE team or the ICC academy in any way, I will gladly give up my time." Flintoff returns to Dubai later this week and plans to speak to the UAE team coach Colin Wells. "The climate and the facilities made it easier for me and the family, so that's one of the reasons for going to Dubai. It is more private, but I like the country. Doing my rehab there, it is ideal, and the kids and missus are happy."

Flintoff could further help in the development of promising youngsters by setting up an academy in Dubai or Abu Dhabi with a target audience of seven to 16-year-olds. "I'd love to do something in the UAE and India next year. We have a model that will be successful. "It's fun-based, it's not elitist and it's more about giving kids the opportunity to play and enjoy playing cricket," added Flintoff at the launch of his new book Ashes to Ashes in Manchester.

"There's no ulterior motive with this or the offer of helping out with UAE coaching. I love playing cricket and if I can help others do the same then that is enough motivation for me. I am proud of my career. I have made a few mistakes along the way, but I have learned from them." While Flintoff, 31, is enjoying more time with his family, wife Rachael and children Holly, Corey and Rocky, he will be happier once he is back in action.

Having confirmed his commitment to England for one day and Twenty20 games, he has targeted World Cup glory in 2011 to soften the blow of not being able to play in another Ashes series. He retired from Test cricket after this summer's success story against Australia. "The pinnacle for an Englishman is the Ashes," he says. "The one thing about retiring from Test cricket is that I'm not going to play another Ashes series.

"It will be hard when the next one comes around and I'm not out there. I don't think that will ever leave. The next best thing is the World Cup. I have played three and done nothing. Personally, and as a team, I want to be successful in that. Winning the World Cup would be huge. "The last part is the one-day stuff. We have not been a consistent side for a long, long time in that form and I want to be at the forefront of being the team we possibly can be.

"It's the incentive and there's a lot of ambition left in me," he adds. "Some people will dwell on the games I have missed for England, but I'm fortunate for the ones I have played. "I'm better for the experiences I have gone through. I'm not looking for sympathy and I'm probably enjoying my cricket more now." akhan@thenational.ae