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Flintoff: 'Stripping, sledging & scapegoats'

Former England talisman, Andrew 'Freddie' Flintoff talks exclusively to about everything from the current England side to, security strip searches and his new dog.

Flintoff (who was back at 'HQ' providing coaching to an auction winner from former team-mate John Crawley's benefit year) looked strong and healthy.

Prize-winner Toby, from Bottisham in Cambridge, was delighted to be coached by his hero and Flintoff, who scoffed when addressed as 'Mr. Flintoff', happily signed autographs for fans in the MCC Cricket Academy.

England strength

Flintoff, 33, was quick to heap praise on his former England team-mates when talk returned to cricket:

"This is probably the strongest England side I've seen." Flintoff said.

"Of the sides I played in, the 2005 Ashes winners were stronger than 2009. 2009 was an up and coming side and we played against an average Australia team then - they weren't very good.

"Now, it's not just the eleven that take the pitch, it's the squad. We've seen this winter, when people got injured, Chris Tremlett came in and did an even better job.

"[Tim] Bresnan's come in, there are batters up and down the country getting runs. Look at the wicket-keeping department: [Matt] Prior's doing well but there are probably four or five there now.

"I think English cricket, as a whole, is as strong as it's ever been."

The former Lancashire star was keen that the counties, criticised in the past, should get their share of the credit for England's current success:

"A lot ex-England players, when England were getting beat and they were a part of it, used to blame the county game and laud Australia's state system.

"It's about time the counties got a bit of recognition.

"It's alright bagging them, making them the scapegoats but now, England are the best side in the world. Obviously we've got some great players but the counties have played a part in that."

'Camp movie star'

In the aftermath of two thumping wins over India, many cricket writers are currently debating if this is the best England team ever and picking composite XIs from 2005, 2009 and 2011.

Does Flintoff, at his blistering peak, believe he would have got into this side?

"I don't know if I'd get in this team - I'm not that bothered anymore!" a relaxed looking Flintoff chuckled.

"If I was picking the team? I'd always pick myself! Just because I love playing.

"Broady's turned into a fine cricketer. In the last couple of Tests I wouldn't have played him, on form, I'd have picked Bresnan and I stand by that.

"Stuart has to find out his game a little bit - he did that last week and that's the way in which he's asked to play.

"He kept going on about being an 'enforcer'. I don't even know what that is. It's just a camp movie star! Broady's strength is pitching it up and swinging it at pace.

"Bowling bouncer, after bouncer, after bouncer that works for nobody.

"Now, batting eight or nine, gives him the freedom to play shots, like he did last week - and we've got a top-class all-rounder."

All-rounders such as Broad and Bresnan are something England seem to have in plentiful supply - a sea change from Flintoff's time:

"I hate the term 'modern cricket' or the 'modern way' - I cringe when I hear that. But even in my career I started to see that the rabbits at the end didn't really exist. You had to earn every wicket.

"England now, with Prior at seven - he's an all-rounder himself. Then Broad, Bresnan, Swann - even Jimmy [Anderson] bless him, he does all right. He does the nightwatchman job!

"That's just how the game is now. Bowlers want to bat, they practice a lot more."

Strip search

Flintoff's enjoying his retirement, taking advantage of having been made an Honorary Life Member of MCC in February 2011:

"I've not got my pass yet - but I have got in. I came to the Middlesex v Surrey Twenty20. I was intrigued to see the Ground under lights. It looked amazing. I'd love to have a game out there in that in front of a full-house."

For 6'4" Flintoff cricket isn't quite what it used to be, with the knee injuries which brought his career to an end still troubling him:

"Health-wise I'm alright. The knee is average. I had surgery in January to have my leg straightened. I had a lot of bone taken out and bone from my hip put in. I've got titanium now down in my leg.

"I needed that so I could walk and have any thoughts of running.

"I beep in airports now. I was in Botswana a few weeks ago and I was going through and I got searched didn't I! The bloke wouldn't have it, I said 'Look, I've got titanium in my leg' but he wasn't having any of it.

"I got taken into a little room and I was down to my undies. He didn't get the glove out - luckily. I was tapping my knee and he eventually let me through.

"I've played a couple of games - I've enjoyed it. I played for the PCA Masters the other week.

"Being around the dressing room - I saw Alex Tudor again, I've known Alex since I was eight. [Phil] DeFreitas, John Emburey, Dean Headley.

"It was a bit embarrassing really. I haven't played since 2009 and I'm at the stage where the opposition take pity on you - they lob them up a bit and let you get some runs. I'd rather they got me out to be honest - it's just embarrassing!

"I've not played for the same team for a while. Charity games is one thing but in a league, it's competitive. Though I've got nothing to prove I don't want to embarrass myself.

"It's the ultimate hiding to nothing though. I'd have to have a bit of practice and some bloke who's been working all week and wants to let off some steam - I don't want to be the target of that.

"Getting sledged - those days are behind me. I've been sledged by some of the world's best cricketers so some butcher, plumber or accountant that fancies his chances? I'm not interested!

Career after cricket
"I've been doing lots of TV stuff. I can't tell you too much at the moment but I got dropped in the jungle in Botswana, on my own, fending for myself, no food, no water. I filmed animals. It was just amazing.

"I do League of Their Own on Sky, I do my radio show on the BBC - I'm doing a documentary for the BBC at the moment called Dark Side of Sport which is tackling real issues in sport - so I'm busy.

"And I got a dog on Saturday. She's called Charlie. It's not the dog I wanted... it's small. I wanted a mastif. It's a cross between a daschund and a poodle - I can't bring myself to say the name [Dashcipoo] - when people ask I say 'It's a mix'.

"I'm spending more time with my kids which is great. I've my foundation, with an event on September 2nd which we're selling tables for - so I'm busy. We've got the academies as well.

"The summer's mental the diary is full - but I'd swap it all to be playing cricket.

"I suppose it is the next best thing. Rather than just jump for the commentary box, I'm never one for taking the easy option. I want to test myself.

"I want to try and learn new skills - that's half the radio show. I want to learn broadcast skills and get better rather than just sit there and talk about the cover drive.

"I think there's more to me. That's not to say I don't enjoy cricket, I like it a lot but I want to watch it on my terms, with my mates, like everyone else."

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