EXCLUSIVE: How cricket saved Freddie Flintoff: England’s unpaid mentor had barely left home since his horror crash nine months ago – now those who know him best say he’s mellowed, back in the sport he loves

EXCLUSIVE: How cricket saved Freddie Flintoff: England’s unpaid mentor had barely left home since his horror crash nine months ago – now those who know him best say he’s mellowed, back in the sport he loves

The scene is Dunsfold Park aerodrome, house of the check monitor of Prime Gear, some of the widespread exhibits on tv, and Andrew Flintoff, Ashes hero turned unlikely BBC star, is making ready to proceed the position he has made his personal – the self-appointed TV ‘Daredevil.’

Solely this time there are not any high-speed japes, with Flintoff and his co-star Paddy McGuiness one way or the other pulling off one other unlikely stunt after which strolling away unharmed to have fun and joke about what they’ve simply performed. This time there may be close to tragedy.

It’s troublesome, however needed, to repeat the info of that terrible day final December when one of many greatest figures in English sport so practically misplaced his life per week after his forty fifth birthday.

Flintoff, with no helmet and with no airbag to guard him, was driving an open topped three-wheel Morgan Tremendous 3, able to speeds as much as 130 mph, in icy situations when it flipped and slid alongside the monitor, dragging his face alongside the tarmac with it.

The person synonymous with England’s fabled 2005 Ashes success, who went on to grow to be a family identify for a wide range of numerous TV roles, suffered a number of facial accidents and damaged ribs after ready 45 minutes in agony for a helicopter to airlift him to hospital.

Flintoff's wife Rachel was told to expect the worst

Andrew Flintoff (left) is working with the England crew 9 months on from a near-fatal crash, whereby his spouse Rachel (pictured proper) was instructed to anticipate the worst

Flintoff has returned to the sport he thrived in as a player to lend advice to England's side

Flintoff has returned to the game he thrived in as a participant to lend recommendation to England’s facet

The cricketer turned TV star furthered his self-appointed ‘Daredevil' role while on Top Gear

The cricketer turned TV star furthered his self-appointed ‘Daredevil’ position whereas on Prime Gear

Pictured: Flintoff and his wife Rachel (seen here on their 2005 wedding day)

Pictured: Flintoff and his spouse Rachel (seen right here on their 2005 marriage ceremony day)

He would spend 4 hours on the working desk as surgeons battled to place a nationwide treasure again collectively. Flintoff’s spouse Rachael, who had hurried to Surrey from the household house in Cheshire to be at his facet, is instructed to anticipate the worst.

Quick ahead nearly precisely 9 months and Flintoff is on Tuesday the place he would by no means have once more anticipated to be. On the Oval, scene of that unforgettable Ashes finale that gripped the nation 18 years in the past and, in 2009, his remaining Check when he dramatically ran out Australian captain Ricky Ponting on the way in which to a different England Ashes triumph.

Solely this time there are not any packed crowds. No spectators in any respect. Simply the hum of an England follow day forward of the third one-day worldwide towards New Zealand, with gamers within the nets going via their bowling, batting and fielding drills.

There, in the midst of this huge and well-known outdated floor, is the unmistakeable determine of Flintoff, baseball mitt in his left hand and trendy bucket hat on his head to be each one of many lads and stay as nameless as attainable, performing as wicketkeeper as England’s bowlers queue to bowl at their new unpaid mentor.

Chris Woakes, Mark Wooden and David Willey all take their flip to work with Flintoff. Most strikingly, there may be Jofra Archer, certainly one of Flintoff’s successors as an England cricket celebrity earlier than harm introduced a short lived halt to his glittering profession, propelling 90 mph thunderbolts at a person all of them grew up watching and adoring.

Flintoff seems to be thinner even than the good bodily form he obtained himself into post-cricket after giving up alcohol and following a extra stringent health regime than he ever did whereas enjoying. Maybe 9 months of inactivity have affected his muscle definition however he seems to be very nicely contemplating what he has been via and is definitely match sufficient to deal with the additional quick bowling of Archer and Wooden, simply spilling the odd absorb his massive mitt.

There’s a scar stretching from the bridge of his nostril to his chin, suggesting a number of reconstructive operations and pores and skin grafts. The precise facet of his face seems to indicate indicators of nerve injury. His nostril remains to be coated in gauze and the grazes on his face are nonetheless contemporary.

However one factor overshadows all the pieces. Flintoff is smiling. He by no means stops smiling as he interacts with the bowlers, providing little suggestions as he goes, after which greets different gamers warmly as they arrive, sharing an embrace and chat with Jonny Bairstow for one. As David ‘Bumble’ Lloyd so precisely instructed Mail Sport. ‘Andrew is house. He’s Freddie once more.’

Flintoff's scars are visible as the former star quietly began working with England's fast bowlers

Flintoff’s scars are seen as the previous star quietly started working with England’s quick bowlers

The England great has been working with the team at the Oval, the scene of his final Test when he dramatically ran out Australian captain Ricky Ponting to help England to Ashes success

The England nice has been working with the crew on the Oval, the scene of his remaining Check when he dramatically ran out Australian captain Ricky Ponting to assist England to Ashes success

Flintoff, 45, has been smiling when greeting and working with members of the England team

Flintoff, 45, has been smiling when greeting and dealing with members of the England crew

The England Ashes hero's involvement as a consultant came without an announcement or fuss

The England Ashes hero’s involvement as a advisor got here with out an announcement or fuss

It was final Friday at Cardiff when Flintoff, quietly and with out fanfare, stepped again into the general public eye for the primary time for the reason that accident that value him so pricey. He had joined up with the England crew for the 50-over collection towards the Kiwis, simply to assist out the place he may with out reward and no announcement or fuss. It was how he insisted it needed to be.

The return of Freddie, because the nation is aware of him, however Andrew to associates and shut household, has been orchestrated by his massive mate and now managing director of England cricket in Rob Key. The pair, together with Steve Harmison, shaped an in depth bond as gamers and now Key has been in fixed contact with Flintoff for the reason that accident, taking issues slowly however encouraging him again to the sport he has, at occasions, had a sophisticated relationship with.

So shut are the pair that, Mail Sport understands, Key has commonly turned to Flintoff for recommendation ever since he stepped out of the commentary field and stepped into the large problem of working England’s males’s cricket.

It was Key who urged Freddie to work with England Underneath 19s this summer season. It was Key, as Mail Sport revealed final Saturday, who invited his shut buddy to 3 Ashes Assessments to look at incognito away from all the eye his presence would inevitably carry.

‘I’d get texts from Keysie once I was at a recreation with simply two phrases in them ‘Fred’s right here’, mentioned Bumble, an enormous mentor and affect on Flintoff as his first coach at Lancashire and England Underneath 19s. ‘Then I’d attempt to get to the place he was for a chat.

‘The humorous one was Manchester. Andrew was sitting there with Key in a room within the media centre at Outdated Trafford about 10 yards from the world’s press. That they had no thought. He arrived with a hat and scarf on and didn’t wish to be seen by anybody.’

Flintoff has carried on that strategy with England this week. There was little or no give attention to his presence within the camp on Sky. There have been no interviews on TV, radio or within the press. These are thought of the primary child steps in what’s going to finally be a full-time return to cricket for arguably its greatest dwelling identify worldwide aside from Ian Botham.

Clearly the involvement, that ends for now with the final ODI at Lord’s on Friday, has gone nicely. ‘He has a lot to supply and it was a no brainer to get him concerned,’ mentioned a supply near the England dressing room. ‘These gamers grew up watching him. He has had his ups and downs within the recreation however he pertains to everybody and that’s vital in teaching.

England's bowlers have been speaking to Flintoff about all aspects of his stellar career

England’s bowlers have been talking to Flintoff about all facets of his stellar profession 

Rob Key, England's managing director, has orchestrated his friend's involvement with the team

Rob Key, England’s managing director, has orchestrated his buddy’s involvement with the crew

Flintoff returned to the public eye in Cardiff last week for the first time since his accident

Flintoff returned to the general public eye in Cardiff final week for the primary time since his accident

David 'Bumble' Lloyd revealed Flintoff had attended three of the Ashes Tests in disguise

 David ‘Bumble’ Lloyd revealed Flintoff had attended three of the Ashes Assessments in disguise

‘Everybody has loved having him round. He’s unbelievable worth. The gamers have been asking him about all the pieces. From working out Ricky Ponting on the Oval, to enjoying for England within the 90s, to recovering from harm and even enjoying within the IPL.

‘There’s no cause why this can’t be the beginning of one thing. If Fred needs to hold on working in cricket, why not? There are such a lot of points to settle first however there isn’t a doubt cricket is the factor he loves most. It’s household with Fred then cricket. There’s nothing higher than being again within the crew pondering you’re having an affect. Even with out the accident I feel he would have been again in some unspecified time in the future.

‘However one step at a time. That is actually the primary time he has been out and about for the reason that accident so he doesn’t wish to get too far forward of himself. We’ll take it because it comes nevertheless it’s been good for him to be out pondering of one thing aside from the crash.’

They’re emotions echoed by the gamers. ‘Freddie has been actually good for me this week,’ England bowler Reece Topley instructed Mail Sport. ‘He’s an enormous character and an idol of mine and the issues he’s mentioned to me have actually resonated. He had critical accidents and his profession was lower quick and there’s loads for me to narrate to.

‘A few of his choices have been poignant and I’m simply grateful to have him round. He’s having an actual affect right here and that speaks volumes for him as a bloke. It’s been thrilling and I’m simply hoping this isn’t the one time he’ll be with us.’

There isn’t any doubt that recognition is echoed by these closest to Flintoff and he’s an immensely loyal and beneficiant buddy in return.

‘I’ll let you know what kind of particular person he’s,’ says Bumble. ‘A mutual buddy hasn’t been nicely. I gained’t let you know who it’s. However Andrew simply turned up unannounced at his entrance door this week to see how he was. He cares about individuals and that may come via in his teaching.

‘He rang me each earlier than and after his accident to ask my recommendation on getting again into cricket. He was below sedation one time he rang however I instructed him it was a terrific thought. And Rob Secret’s completely the very best man to drive it. These two are extremely shut.’

Steve Harmison, left, admitted he had been left in tears after seeing Flintoff for the first time since his accident and was left was a 'lump in his throat' when he joined up with England

Steve Harmison, left, admitted he had been left in tears after seeing Flintoff for the primary time since his accident and was left was a ‘lump in his throat’ when he joined up with England

Flintoff suffered gruesome facial injuries a crash while filming the BBC's Top Gear in December

Flintoff suffered grotesque facial accidents a crash whereas filming the BBC’s Prime Gear in December

Reece Topley said the the advice of his idol has 'really resonated' along with his career story

Reece Topley mentioned the the recommendation of his idol has ‘actually resonated’ alongside together with his profession story

Flintoff had experienced highs with England including inspiring Ashes winning triumphs

Flintoff had skilled highs with England together with inspiring Ashes profitable triumphs

The all-rounder also experienced the low of being sacked as England vice-captain in 2007

The all-rounder additionally skilled the low of being sacked as England vice-captain in 2007

Maybe Flintoff’s closest buddy in Harmison concurs. ‘I have to admit the primary time I noticed him after the accident I used to be in tears,’ mentioned the previous quick bowler this week. ‘However there was additionally a lump in my throat once I noticed the massive fella again with England.

‘He went off and did one thing else after cricket and I may perceive that however the issue cricket had is what Andrew went into subsequent paid him a hell of some huge cash and it was exhausting to get him again. But when you concentrate on the data he has he can be an incredible addition to something the ECB wish to contain him in.’

It hasn’t at all times been simple in cricket with Flintoff. By the point he retired, had misplaced 5-0 to Australia as captain and been concerned within the notorious pedalo incident in St Lucia, he had a love-hate relationship with the sport and many individuals in it.

Relations are definitely frosty between Flintoff and the majority of the English cricketing press and there was even as soon as a weird rant at his outdated Lancashire and England team-mate Mike Atherton he insisted the London Night Customary newspaper print.

Considered one of his former captains instructed Mail Sport ‘Freddie is difficult. He’s additionally self-conscious and might be delicate. It could have taken loads for him to return again out in public this week however there isn’t a doubt he appeared snug and relaxed once more. And I feel he’s mellowed. He has re-built bridges with plenty of the individuals he fell out with.’

A number of these individuals feared for Flintoff, primarily due to his consuming, when he retired however there isn’t a doubt he proved them improper by giving up the booze, sorting himself out and forging a spectacularly profitable profession in tv.

Intriguingly, it’s that ‘Daredevil’ position he has at all times appeared interested in, whether or not it was reinventing himself as a boxer, within the massively widespread Sky programme A League of their Personal alongside Jamie Redknapp and even taking dangers singing in a west finish musical.

However that ‘Daredevil’ nature caught up with him nearly self-destructively in the long run. ‘The issue with Freddie is, in the event you go quick he needs to go sooner,’ a supply near him instructed Mail Sport. ‘In case you are daring he needs to be extra daring. You’ll be able to’t cease the ferocious competitor popping out.’

There isn’t any doubt Flintoff was significantly emotionally and bodily affected by the crash that leaves his TV profession unsure and the way forward for Prime Gear unsure.

Flintoff embarked on a television career after his retirement and joined Jamie Redknapp, left, on the popular Sky programme A League of their Own before joining Top Gear

Flintoff launched into a tv profession after his retirement and joined Jamie Redknapp, left, on the favored Sky programme A League of their Personal earlier than becoming a member of Prime Gear

Flintoff's career in television remains uncertain due to the affects of the crash last December

Flintoff’s profession in tv stays unsure because of the impacts of the crash final December

The near fatal accident suffered by Flintoff appears to have brought him back to cricket

The close to deadly accident suffered by Flintoff seems to have introduced him again to cricket

In the meantime the ramifications of what occurred at that Surrey aerodrome rumble on, with Mail Sport understanding authorized motion by Flintoff towards the BBC for negligence remains to be very a lot a risk.

The final 9 months have definitely modified him. ‘He has at all times been a daredevil however he doesn’t wish to try this anymore,’ added the supply.

Maybe Flintoff was at all times destined to return to cricket. It simply took a near-death expertise to make it occur. He was an envoy for the 2019 World Cup and at one look I requested him why he had distanced himself from the sport that made him.

‘I didn’t wish to work within the recreation once I retired as a result of I didn’t wish to resent it,’ he instructed me then. ‘However you’d be shocked how a lot I watch and my two boys play (Corey and Rocky are each within the Lancashire set-up). In the intervening time there’s loads occurring however I’ve obtained an ambition to teach in some unspecified time in the future. My past love has at all times been cricket.’

That time has arrived. Flintoff had barely been exterior the entrance door of his home close to Altrincham since getting back from hospital simply after final Christmas. He has been caught at house, hiding from the gaze of the general public and the paparazzi, damaged in each physique and thoughts.

However now he has a objective and it’s no exaggeration to say Rob Key and cricket might have saved him. Andrew Flintoff will, slowly however certainly, be seen increasingly in English cricket and with the England crew.

As Bumble says ‘Freddie is again house.’

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