Having been a modern day all-rounder himself Chris Cairns knows how difficult it is for the ageing Flintoff to return from injury During my career I had four knee operations, two ankle operations, a broken hand, many intercostal tears, a fractured back, a variety of torn muscles and a ruptured spleen. For a cricketer, that's not too bad. Being an all-rounder is the hardest form of the game to perform in physically. While success is what we strive for, it is an all too infrequent companion. On the days, and sometimes weeks, that success decides to accompany you on the pitch, an all-rounder finds himself, well, knackered. Scoring runs, then backing up with the ball and having your rhythm present means wickets which in turn means overs.
When rhythm is present with bowling there is no better feeling. People would ask me: "What do you prefer, a hundred [didn't get many of those] or five wickets?" It is wickets every time. Batting for me was fun, bowling was my job. I think any true all-rounder would give you the same answer. You just cannot beat the exhausted feeling at the end of the day with a bit of blood from your toes in your socks and joints that ache pleasantly while sipping on a cold drink.
Towards the end of my career ice baths came in to fashion. For me ice keeps drinks cold, that's it. Submerging one's body into a bath full of ice is not a feeling you enjoy. There are many things that occur here ranging from third degree ice burns to bodily pieces inverting on themselves and being in a dressing room full of men this is not good for your ego. With the advent of Twenty20 there are now three forms of the game for an all-rounder to perform in and the shorter the version of the match the more valuable he becomes. The playing side of things is tough, no doubt. But the thing which really increases the injury possibility is travel. On planes and buses, zipping around states, provinces and countries. Backs and hamstrings are very susceptible to this environment and recovery during tours and tournament play is paramount.
Right now Jacques Kallis is the stand-out all-rounder. He has a few years to go yet and he will finish as arguably one of the game's greatest players. The other player who is more of a true all-rounder is Andrew "Freddie" Flintoff. Fred has the X-factor in his play. The ability to change a game in a session. I see at the moment he has suffered another setback with exploratory knee surgery. Now, Fred needs more amount of time on the operating table about as much as the England rugby team need another Kiwi in their backline.
It seems like it may be a long road back for the big Lancastrian. With age, the trouble is the ability to recover. While on the mend it is the surrounding joints and muscles that become vulnerable because they support the damaged and recovering areas. There is only one speed when you come back from an op: slow and steady. Fred has been spending a bit of time in Dubai during his rehabilitation and it would not surprise me if the UAE becomes a destination for cricketers who have finished their international commitments and ply their trade in the Twenty20 leagues of the world. The country is convenient to travel from, provides a great lifestyle for families and excellent facilities to train in. There is, of course, the small matter of no tax which adds some considerable weight to the argument.
There is a word floating around that Fred may well not play again, which would be a travesty for him and the watchers of cricket. As a man he is big in stature and as a player he had an appetite for the big occasion. His bowling was done in the high 95kph threshold and would spill over to 100 when the rhythm was flowing. His deliveries would hit your bat hard and the slant of his natural delivery made batting uncomfortable. His stats with a Test bowling average above 30 did not signify his true impact as a bowler. No one liked to face him and in tandem with Harmison, these two were on many batsmen's "I'm not too keen" list.
As a batsman, Fred could smack it. Hard. I felt he got a bit confused sometimes whether he should act like a batter or throw caution to the wind and be the aggressor. When he did take the aggressor role he was dynamite. Where he was also dynamite was off the field. With some well documented nights out, he is a person the general public can resonate with and at times sympathise with. He is a man the English fan can relate to.
I hope he recovers. It will be good to have the big man entertaining us all for a while longer. The just concluded Indian Premier League (IPL) auction was very exciting for some players around the world who were tuning in to their mounting dollar value via internet links and phone-ins. The players I feel most for are the Pakistan boys. Where politics meets sport is a juncture that should not exist. But sport is a pastime that engulfs many and cricket in India is religion, so this is where sport becomes a pawn of a wider agenda.
Shahid Afridi is no doubt among the top five players in T20 in anyone's opinion. The flamboyant Pakistan captain is a crowd favourite in India and I know if it were down to the fans then "Boom Boom" would be welcomed with open arms at any franchise. But as much as a utopian cricket world where every nation walks arm in arm would be wonderful, politics dictates that this will never occur. I sincerely hope to see the Pakistan boys back for IPL four because, as rich as the T20 format is making players today, the game of cricket would be richer for having everyone available to play.