He’s a p****,” said Flintoff. “He’s a f***ing prick. He sits there making judgments about players that are much better than he ever was, believe me, he’s a p****.
“How can he talk about a player like Alastair Cook who is 10 times the player he ever was – he has a much bigger average and will go on and on. Atherton averaged in the 30s for England and yet he thinks he can judge others.”
Flintoff was then asked if he wanted his comments to be taken as off the record, but replied: “I don’t care. Say what you like. There’s no love lost there.”
Let’s forget about why he said it. Atherton’s biggest cause for grievance – not that as a now celebrated journalist he will care – is that Flintoff himself was perhaps not as great a player as he was famous.
At his peak he was almost freakishly good. In the Ashes of 2005, against one of the finest team of all time, he averaged 40 with the bat and took the most wickets for England with 24.
What was all the fuss about?
But his career averages are less special. As the online cricket bible cricinfo says: “Future generations might look at Andrew Flintoff’s career figures and wonder what all the fuss was about. In Tests he averaged 31 with bat, and 32 with ball. For all the talk of fearsome fast bowling, only three five-fors featured among his 228 wickets.”
Ian Botham’s averages with bat and ball are better – and as a bowler he took five wickets in an innings 27 times.
Those of us who saw Flintoff play were blessed. His charisma combined with talent told a story far more romantic than anything afforded by statistics alone.
But true all time greats like Botham, Warne and Richards would be rightly pilloried for such an outburst. Flintoff and Atherton weren’t in their league. At least Atherton seems to know it.