Former England legend and Ashes hero Andrew Flintoff has made a dramatic return to cricket, signing up to play for his former county Lancashire.
The LCCC's official website confirmed on Friday that "Freddie" would return to their ranks to represent them at the shorter form of the game and will join up with the Lightning's squad to play T20 cricket in their Natwest Blast campaign.
LCCC Cricket Director Mike Watkinson said, per the LCCC website:
We are delighted to have Fred involved once again at the club. He is Lancashire through and through and his record for both club and country speaks for itself. Fred has been back at Emirates Old Trafford under his own steam since the winter and has been working with the Academy and in the nets with some of the other players.
Over a period of time he has picked up on his physical conditioning and this continues to improve. He has shown in practice that he still has plenty of class with bat and ball, and will be a great addition to the NatWest T20 Blast squad.
Flintoff's return to cricket marks the end of a five-year absence from the sport, during which the former England captain embarked on a career in television and the media.
The 36-year-old made his Lancashire debut in 1995 and went on to represent his country in 79 Test matches and 141 one-day internationals, per LCCC's website, before his career was cut short by injury.
Flintoff expressed his surprise and delight at his comeback, saying to the LCCC website:
I'm really honoured to be part of Lancashire once again. It is something that I never thought would happen but after training with the squad over the last few months I am really happy that they have invited me to play. I have worked really hard to get back to my fittest and I hope that we have a successful summer. I'm just glad that I can be part of it.
And freelance cricket writer Chris Stocks gave his support to Flintoff's decision to take to the crease once again. He tweeted:
I can't see a downside to Flintoff's T20 return for Lancs. I think it's great news for cricket in terms of publicity and profile— Chris Stocks (@StocksC_cricket) May 30, 2014
Lancashire plan to play Flintoff in a reserve team match in the Northern League at St. Annes—where he played junior cricket—and will then unleash him in their T20 side, per Paul Newman of Mail Online.
During his career with the Red Rose county he made 80 first-class appearances, scoring 4,042 runs at 35.14 and taking 92 wickets at 29.16, per LCCC's website.
Speaking to BBC Sport, Flintoff further added:
I feel young; I behave like I'm young. It's the easiest decision I've made in my career. Lancs think I can do it; I think I can do it. I can't guarantee performance but I'm going to have a go at this. I've got to prove myself.
I don't want it to be one year. You see Brad Hogg playing in the Big Bash, Brad Hodge is playing for Australia at 39, Glen Chapple's 40 and still charging in in four-dayers.
Flintoff's return is more of a pleasant surprise than a seismic shock. With him still being in his mid-30s and physically active in a number of televised challenges, he has shown he has the capacity and motivation to train hard, such as in his recent flirtation with boxing, per BBC Sport.
If Freddie can show some real form with the bat and ball in hand, you cannot completely discount a return to international cricket, though this would seem unlikely at this point. Flintoff was an inspirational figure in English cricket for many years and his experience could be utilised for both club and country.
Has Andrew Flintoff made the right decision to come out of retirement?
Flintoff is the type of character who likes a challenge and he will want to show to the press and public that he can still be a force in 2014. Lancashire will benefit greatly as a result due to added interest generated in their forthcoming fixtures.
You can never discount Freddie, and the short form of the game will suit his style and age. He is a welcome addition back to British sport.