| Andrew Flintoff: Target practice'
London, Sept. 21: The England cricket authorities were today playing down a report that Andrew Flintoff, the nation’s number one cricketing hero, was shot at with an air gun in Delhi when he was touring India in 2002.
A spokesperson for the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB), which will be responsible for the security of the touring England side when it visits Pakistan next month and India in March-April next year, said: “We are not making any further comment.”
The disclosure came from Flintoff himself, who is making the claim in his autobiography, Being Freddie, which is being published next week by Hodder & Stoughton.
Flintoff (nicknamed “Freddie”), whose performance this summer with both bat and ball tipped the balance against Australia in a closely fought Ashes series, takes the view that he is “there to be shot at ' but surely not literally”.
He writes: “As an England player you are a target, as well as a hero, but a line was crossed when I was fielding on the boundary for England in Delhi in 2002. I felt something hit me and, looking down, saw pellets on the ground. You expect to have plastic bottles thrown at you when you are playing on the sub-continent, but you don’t expect to be shot.”
He adds: “Nasser Hussain (the England captain) got very heated about it in the middle and Phil Neale, the tour manager, came to find out what was going on. We carried on, but the whole thing seemed to get swept under the carpet.”
Flintoff anticipates the criticism that if he was really so worried by what had happened, he should have raised the matter sooner by pointing out that a decision was taken to hush up the affair.
He says: “There was a big story back home to do with crowd disturbances, but Andrew Walpole, the ECB’s media relations manager, told me to play the incident down when I was interviewed the following day. Looking back now, I think I should have made more of a stand because I wasn’t there to be shot at. We explained it away as the crowd just being overexcited at the time, but I wasn’t sure about that at all.”
Nor was India the only place where he was the victim of the crowd, reveals Flintoff, whose book is being serialised in The Times. “I realised how much you are in the public eye playing for England after I got a pair at Headingley in 1998. My next game was a NatWest Trophy game down at Southampton and I got abused by these two blokes in the crowd for two hours or more. They had a go at my pair, my weight, my family and everything. I know it was wrong when Eric Cantona (the French footballer) went into the crowd to sort out that fan, but I was sorely tempted to follow his example.”
Flintoff’s book was ghosted by a sports journalist, Myles Hodgson, who said: “I put down his thoughts. I don’t have the authority to speak on his behalf. He doesn’t have sleepless nights about what happened in India. It was just an incident but he was concerned about it at the time.” The incident was also reported in the Indian media.
The ECB is apparently satisfied with the security arrangements being made for the tour of India. For Pakistan, however, it has agreed to play only a one-dayer in Karachi and not a Test as well as the one-dayer as the Pakistanis wanted.
Flintoff’s spokesperson, Neil Fairbrother, who runs International Sports Management, said he did not wish to add to what had been revealed about the air gun incident.
“The atmosphere of Indian cricket is fantastic and Flintoff enjoys playing in India,” he said. “He is looking forward to playing in India. This (the air gun incident) is not a big problem.”
At Hodder & Stoughton, there is said to be “huge excitement” about Flintoff’s book.
In all, 160,000 hardback copies, each costing '18.99, have been published.
“The media have gone crazy about it,” said a spokeswoman for the publishers. “If this is any guide, Richie Benaud’s book, My Spin on Cricket, which we also published, has also gone into the bestsellers’ list at number two.”
Some copies of Being Freddie are being flown to India, while Flintoff himself will be present for the Australian launch during the forthcoming games between Australia and a World XI.
The Flintoff autobiography was commissioned by Roddy Bloomfield, the sports editor at Hodder & Stoughton, who was today a happy man.
He was being inundated by calls. “I am under siege,” he wailed. “I’m very pleased by the response.”
A cricket enthusiast himself, he predicted: “It will be a very good series in India. They have such good batsmen.”
He spoke as India were having a difficult pre-lunch session against Zimbabwe in Harare.