Flintoff, 45, has been working as an unpaid assistant coach for England’s men during their one-day series against New Zealand and Ireland, as part of his recovery from a near-fatal accident while filming an episode of Top Gear last December. His presence within the dressing-room proved hugely popular with the World Cup-bound players who featured in the New Zealand series, many of whom grew up idolising him, especially during the 2005 Ashes, and his stint was extended to take in the current series against Ireland, for which a separate 13-man squad was chosen.
There are no concrete plans to extend Flintoff’s working relationship with the ECB after the third ODI in Bristol on Tuesday, which concludes the international summer. However, both sides have an appetite for more involvement going forward after the last few weeks. Having attended a few days during the Ashes with the encouragement of Rob Key, director of men’s cricket and a long-term friend, Flintoff has become a more visible presence around England training sessions, taking the mitt to the bowlers, and offering advice to those who seek it.
His command of a room has also been noteworthy behind closed doors. He was given the floor to speak at The Oval after Jos Buttler’s side had beaten New Zealand, stating his admiration for what he felt was one of the best England environments he had been privy to. On Saturday at Trent Bridge, Flintoff was given the honour of presenting Tom Hartley, a fellow Lancastrian, with his maiden England cap ahead of the second ODI.
“It’s been hard actually because he hammers me more than anyone else,” Trescothick said. “I’m the first target for his banter at the moment, but having him around has been superb, it really has.
“Seeing him grow back into Freddie and getting back into the cricket…obviously he’s been away from cricket for a long period of time. But this is where it all starts and where it belongs for him. The guys have really taken to him.’
“He’s been brilliant. A couple of times he’s spoken in the changing-room it’s been like, ‘wow’. You can see the difference, and I’ve seen the progression of him as a character; the way he talks and delivers messages to players has been superb. To have him sprinkling a bit of gold dust around the team and having the younger players working with that has been invaluable, really. You can’t put a price on it.”
It was during the first ODI against New Zealand at Cardiff that Flintoff was first spotted as part of the staff. This happened to be his first public appearance since he had been left with facial scars following a crash at Dunsfold Park Aerodrome while shooting an episode for Top Gear‘s 34th series.
As a legend of English cricket, and a key personality in the lineage of talismanic allrounders now carried forward by Stokes, Trescothick was particularly enamoured with how Flintoff has grown into his role. While he has been around the game recently, having worked with England’s Under-19s and frequent visits to Emirates Old Trafford given his sons Corey (17) and Rocky (14) are part of Lancashire’s age-group sides, he was understandably wary ahead of this opportunity with the national team.
“I think he was a little bit nervous coming into the environment,” Trescothick said. “He doesn’t know many of the people so, from where he was coming in first at Cardiff to where he is now, he’s grown massively.
“He’s back into the person you expect to be around cricket because that’s what I’ve seen for so many years and it’s been great, really good. He’s really enjoyed the opportunity and the team have taken to him being around. Hopefully, we’ll see more of him in the future.”
Trescothick, like Flintoff, knows all about cricket’s ability to aid recovery. His mental-health struggles, especially when on tour, meant his international career ended in 2006, at the age of 30. With the help of those within the game, Trescothick has begun to take on more overseas trips in retirement. He returned to Pakistan for England’s Test tour last winter for the first time since 2005, a series which he believes triggered his depression, and he will be assisting England at the upcoming World Cup in India.
“You become more comfortable, don’t you?” Trescothick said, recognising how cricket had helped Flintoff as it had helped him. “This is what we know, this is what we’ve grown up with for so many years. Once you come to your comfortable environment, you know what goes on and you understand the place, people have respect for what he has done and enjoy seeing him improving.
“That’s really good from our point of view. If we as players and squads and cricket in general keep doing that for people who have fallen on tougher times, then great, we’re doing something right.”
Vithushan Ehantharajah is an associate editor at ESPNcricinfo