हिन्दीಕನ್ನಡമലയാളംதமிழ்తెలుగు

India falls for England superskip Freddie

Published: Thursday, March 30, 2006, 23:53 [IST]
 
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New delhi:Stand-in England skipper Andrew Flintoff has captivated cricket-loving India with his exceptional all-round talent and down-to-earth attitude like no other tourist in recent times.

Flintoff arrived last month at best third-in-line for the captaincy and still remembered as a wild youngster who waved his shirt over his head to reveal a flabby midriff during his first visit to India in 2002.

He will leave in April as the first England captain to win a Test match in India in 21 years. And he takes with him the absolute respect of his peers and the masses of Indian fans who revere top cricketers.

Plain-speaking "Fred" Flintoff from Preston, Lancashire, is also the first foreign cricketer to be granted a benefit dinner in India, and not just one.

India offers the biggest bucks in world cricket and his promoters cannily extended to Mumbai and Delhi the glittering fund-raisers for Flintoff's favourite charities.

"To come to India, a country where people are so knowledgeable about cricket, to play in front of such crowds, receive the hospitality, it's been amazing," Flintoff said Wednesday night.

He said he wanted to raise a million pounds this just for the Leukaemia Research Fund in Britain, and that he was confident there would be no problem.

When he and some teammates asked to go to Agra to see the Taj Mahal on Wednesday, a local businessman readily offered his executive jet to fly them down.

Flintoff is as natural a socialiser as he is cricketer and spent most of the evening revelling in the small talk of hordes of Indian admirers.

But there was serious business to be done among the 250 guests, rich businessmen and politicians invited to open their bulging wallets for charity.

In Mumbai last week and Delhi, the guests stumped up some six million rupees (136,000 dollars) at auctions of memorabilia from Flintoff's personal collection, signed bats, helmets, shirts.

India's captain Rahul Dravid and teammates turned out too to pay homage to the 2005 International Cricket Council Player of the Year.

Flintoff treads in the footsteps of his boyhood hero Ian Botham, as well as Geoffrey Boycott and David Gower, all highly-regarded regulars on the Indian cricket circuit. But none ever earned a benefit dinner.

Praise has poured out for Fred.

"He proved he is the best all-rounder in the world at the moment," said Dravid after Flintoff was awarded Man of the Test series and Man of the final match.

In the official rankings Flintoff is second, but he has shown India none of the downside associated with touring English cricketers, moaning about the stifling weather, the dust, the spicy food.

"He came, he saw, he conquered," said the Hindustan Times. "As fine a demonstration of how to lead from the front as one could expect to see in the annals of the game," added The Times of India. The Hindu dubbed him "Fantastic".

Even when Flintoff led his team on a lap of honour, each man swigging from a beer bottle in hand, no complaints were heard in conservative, sober India.

No Indian cricketer would dream of such a public display at home, but it came as no surprise from a man with a notorious penchant for partying.

Flintoff has also entered every Indian home which owns a television, joining the pantheon of India's cricket heroes with lucrative advertising endorsements.

"Fred" is selling a leading brand of beer. Officially, the ad promotes water but no one is fooled.

Flintoff plays the clown to Michael Vaughan, the injured captain he replaced. I like the Indian weather, Flintoff says, because you can drink more beer in the heat.

Media hailed as inspirational Flintoff's decision to play Johnny Cash's song "Ring of Fire" in the last-day dressing room in Mumbai. No one explained the joke of which red-faced English visitors with Delhi belly are only too painfully aware.

Indians may be slightly bemused by his boozing and either missed the point or chose to ignore some British toilet humour.

But they have warmed generously to the cricketer and character.

Flintoff may be riding some incredible luck and says he is looking forward to giving the captaincy back to Vaughan. Yet his achievements on one of the most difficult tours have led to calls for his long-term appointment if any doubts remain about the Yorkshireman's fitness.

The 28-year-old grabbed 11 wickets in three Tests and hit four successive half centuries before flying home for a few days with his wife who had given birth to a son.

Such success, whatever happens in the remaining six One-day games, has opened doors that will remain open for Flintoff in India for a long time to come.

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