Freddie Flintoff: six lessons England's T20 Blast should learn from Australian cricket
The Ashes legend was won over by his welcome Down Under during the Big Bash League - and believes his home country could do the domestic game better
In 2005, he was the bane of Australian cricket, but Freddie Flintoff has become an Australian convert since playing Twenty20 there this winter.
Flintoff made a surprise comeback last year, playing professional cricket for his home side Lancashire for the first time since 2010. He followed that up with a season playing for Brisbane Heat in the Big Bash League, Australia's domestic T20 tournament.
"Why would I not play?" Flintoff says, when asked why he came out of retirement. "Even some of the press were saying how it would affect everything I had done before, but when I finished I was a load of rubbish!"
Not only did he prove the doubters wrong, he returned home with some valuable tips for his countrymen (oh, and a win on Australia's I'm A Celebrity).
England's domestic game doesn't compare to what's happening in Australia, he claims: "The standard of Australian cricket is so high. Big Bash cricket was really celebrating the game. There are lessons England could learn."
So, what are those lessons? Here are Freddie's top tips for fixing the English game.
1) Ditch the counties, play the cities
"I think a lot can be learned from the Big Bash, especially when it comes to city cricket. I think it’s something that has to be pushed. Wouldn’t it be great to see London versus Birmingham? Leeds v Preston? To see cities playing in a tournament would work so well in England.
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"One of the very few county rivalries that sell out stadiums is Lancashire v Yorkshire. But you can still keep that rivalry, and have something like Manchester v Leeds."
2) Make it faster
"T20 in England takes too long. [The tournament] is on Friday nights, there are 14 to 15 group games even before the knockouts, whereas with the Big Bash everyone is excited by it for six weeks and it’s done."
3) Fix the venues
"The Big Bash League is played on good pitches. The Gabba in Brisbane for example is played in front of 30,000 people. Adelaide was getting 50,000. That’s very different to playing at Derby or Leicester."
4) Drop 'the baggage'
"England are making small steps in the one-day game, but we've been terrible at one-day cricket for ages. These players carry the baggage of everything that’s gone before.
"The one thing they need to do is be brave. England in one-day cricket have always competed and stayed in games, but they need to go out there and be fearless. Just have a proper go."
5) Play the kids...
"I’ll be honest, I don’t think I could get a game out there for anyone again. The standard’s so high, there’s a lot of great young kids coming through. I’m glad I did it; I never thought I’d get the chance, so I wouldn’t swap it."
6) ...and impress the kids
"I judge the Big Bash League on my kids, and they loved it. They started following the teams, and got to know about players they had never heard of. I haven’t seen them do that with any other sport."
Flintoff might be a convert to the Big Bash League, but he hasn't forgotten it was the 2005 Ashes series that made him an England legend.
It will be ten years since that Test victory, and Flintoff will be marking the occasion in style. He already hosts a sports podcast with friend and TV producer Clyde Holcroft, and this summer is taking the show on the road.
"There are a couple of stories I need to get permission from my wife before I tell," he jokes. "I can’t wait to do that though, the chance to go round theatres with Clyde who’s my mate is brilliant.
"We just talk about the important issues in cricket, like: why do people go to toilet so often? All the hard-hitting stuff. It’s going to be 10 years since the 2005 Ashes as well, so there will be a real buzz around cricket."
The English T20 Blast gets underway this Friday 15 May, with Nottinghamshire Outlaws against Birmingham Bears live from 6pm on Sky Sports 2.