There is a certain degree of inevitability about the decision to drop Andrew Flintoff from England’s latest Cricket World Cup match and also sack the player universally known as “Freddie” as vice captain, if you believe some former players.
According to some of those closer to the heart of the English cricket side than most of us, the all-rounder has been warned several times about his off-field behaviour and drinking habits between matches.
It now appears his early morning drunken Caribbean sojourn 24 hours before a match – and coming hours after defeat in England’s opening World Cup match against New Zealand – is the straw that broke the camel’s back. The fact that it seems he persuaded five other players to join him has also not gone down very well with the England management and certain senior players.
But doesn’t the action also smack of double standards?
Freddie’s penchant for a drink was very much in evidence when England won the Ashes on home soil. He celebrated throughout the night and was clearly inebriated during the official reception the day after England secured the crucial win.
At the time some voiced concerns about his 24-hour bender, but on the whole England’s newest cricketing hero was indulged. Having played a vital role in defeating Australia, Freddie was the pin-up boy of English cricket and most were happy to laugh along with the drunken smile that was fixed on Flintoff’s face.
It was all so different 12 months later when England relinquished the Ashes in a 5-0 drubbing. Now some reports suggest that Flintoff, far from his best during the series in Australia, was warned on several occasions about his drinking between matches.
Why has it taken so long to take such action? If it has been a problem for some time, then it would have benefited both the England team and Flintoff himself if a far tougher stance was taken early on.
But still Flintoff was indulged and what could well be a serious problem was swept under the carpet.
We shouldn’t be surprised. We’ve seen a similar attitude from England’s team management towards the problems that affected another senior player. The way everyone tip-toed around the mental health issues faced by Marcus Trescothick has apparently set a precedent in the way it has dealt with Flintoff’s drinking – don’t do anything until you’re backed so far into a corner that you have to do something, but even then only go through the motions.
Cricket is a professional sport and yet is seemingly still struggling to understand exactly what “professionalism” means.
We’ve seen it in rugby union and only now are some coming to terms with what professional sport entails.
This is a criticism that could be levelled at the players, the coaches, the management, the clubs and the governing body. It is a generalisation and there are some who are making strides in the professional era.
Yet the problems with Freddie show that even those at the very top are still struggling.
It would be interesting to know what other action, if any, England’s management is taking as regards their star all-rounder.
Banning him for a match and stripping him of the captaincy is probably sufficient punishment.
But is Flintoff being offered any help, support or advice about the way he behaves off-the-field?
Sport in general doesn’t have a good track record of dealing with such issues. There are fallen heroes littering football, rugby, tennis, athletics and many other sports.
We have a tendency to indulge our sporting giants. But when they overstep the line of what is “acceptable” then they tend to be brought down to earth with a big bump.
Freddie Flintoff is undoubtedly a star. But there is a real danger that he is currently being allowed to burn out too quickly.