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Cricket

Unsung Heroes

The patchwork tiles on the roofs around the St Annes cricket ground are testament to the youthful prowess of Andrew Flintoff.

Groundsmen
Groundsmen at Fenner's, Cambridge University's cricket ground, brush rain off the covers
©TopFoto.co.uk/PA
The future England captain first walked through the gates of the Lancashire club when he was 12 years old. Even then the prodigious talent of the all-rounder who helped bring the Ashes home in the summer of 2005 was obvious, says his former coach, Mick Moore.

Like the countless other volunteers who help keep the sport alive at grass roots level, Mick, a taxi driver in nearby Preston, expected nothing in return for the hours he devoted to coaching youngsters at the club. Playing a small part in "Freddie’s" development was reward enough.

“When he first came to the club he was already a rising star,” says Mick, 56, who was head coach for 20 years. “I had only seen him play once before, for another team. I knew his Dad, Colin, who wanted Andrew to play at a higher level. He asked me for advice so I suggested he joined St Annes, where the facilities were excellent.

“Andrew had a tremendous eye for the ball and just loved the game, always playing with a smile on his face like he does now. To be honest he didn’t need much coaching, it was more a case of fine-tuning his talent.”

Mick recalls one particular game, when Flintoff smashed so many sixes in a junior game that he cleaned a rival club out of its entire stock of balls.

England’s man-of the-series against Australia hit a record 20 sixes for his team, in his innings of 224 not out. As balls soared out of the ground, the game was frequently delayed while spectators and players waiting to bat were sent on a desperate hunt in nearby streets.

After six balls were lost in less than an hour, the captain of opposing Fulwood and Broughton was forced to admit that his club had none left.

“Fortunately we had brought some spare balls with us so the game could continue,” says Mick, who was Flintoff’s coach for four years. “I have never seen anyone hit the ball so far. Down the years I lost count of the number of balls we lost into nearby streets and houses. People were always having to dive for cover and there was the odd window broken.”

The young star also hit 20 fours in his innings against Fulwood, spanning just 20 overs, before the opponents were restricted to just 43 for four in their 20 overs. It is still his highest score.

Andrew Flintoff
England's Andrew Flintoff celebrates claiming the wicket of Australia's Matthew Hayden
©TopFoto.co.uk/Empics
Aged just 14, Flintoff became the youngest ever player to make his debut in the tough Northern league, against fully-grown men, before being spotted by his county, Lancashire, two years later.

“Andrew is a lovely lad – he still keeps in contact with the club and I know he has donated kit,” says Mick. “He always had an aura about him which rubbed off on other players. He seemed to have an ability to lift them. I am absolutely elated that he has helped England regain the Ashes.”

From tea-lady to groundsman, without volunteers like Mick, club and village cricket could not survive. Within four years the English Cricket Board hopes to have filled 85,000 volunteer posts.

Former England captain Mike Atherton says: “Without the help of volunteers, a great deal of sporting talent in the UK would never get a chance to shine.”