By Olly Foster, BBC Sport in Dubai  www.news.bbc.co.uk 

The Burj Khalifa rises like a glass spike, nearly a kilometre into the Dubai sky. There’s no taller building in the world.

Despite suffering from vertigo in the past, Andrew Flintoff is up for my suggestion that we go to the top. As we head for the world’s fastest elevator, he reveals his previous wobbles negotiating tall buildings.

“I remember when I was a kid my mum and dad took us up Blackpool Tower. I nearly passed out,” Flintoff tells BBC Sport.

“And walking halfway up Eiffel Tower’s first level, I had to sit down and passed out.

“Then me and the missus went to New York and went up the Empire State Building. We hadn’t been seeing each other long and I was all macho about it. I passed out.

“So someone might have to catch me in a few minutes.”

The 360-degree viewing platform is just over halfway up the Burj Khalifa but still offers a jaw-dropping view of the city, desert and gulf beyond.

Sticking his head though the railings and looking down 124 floors, Flintoff appears to have conquered his vertigo phobia. “Spiders and the dark next,” he jokes.

“Fred”, as he prefers to be called, is a funny man and remarkably upbeat for a 32-year-old world-class cricketer whose career hangs in the balance.

He points out his rented apartment across the creek, though he’s house-hunting for something bigger for the family.

This is his town now and he’s been made an official ambassador to help promote Dubai, something he describes as “an honour” but also “an easy gig”.

The Flintoff family have been in Dubai for about five months. It’s the perfect base to start a freelance cricketing career in India, England and perhaps Australia and South Africa further down the line.

His three children, Holly, Corey and Rocky, are settled at nursery and school. The only setback is that he should have been playing again soon but now will not return until the summer.

Immediately after the last Ashes series, which he helped England win, Flintoff had a micro-fracture operation on his right knee.

That meant a six-month lay-off, with a comeback pencilled in for March, when he would begin a second stint with Chennai Super Kings in the Indian Premier League.

He then planned one-dayers and Twenty20 matches for England and Lancashire.

But two weeks ago, the surgeon went back into his knee to remove some scar tissue and now Flintoff has another six months with the family.

“It’s frustrating, how quickly you can lose your fitness, from feeling great a couple of weeks ago, all of a sudden I feel a bit flabby and a bit fat,” he says.

“The incentives in six months are so high I have to get on with it. To drag myself out of bed in the morning to do the gym and do the rehab, if there’s any negative thoughts in my head, thinking I won’t get back, that would reflect in my training.

“I’ve got to keep believing that I am going to be fit and get back playing and be better than before.”

Flintoff looks far from flabby. You can see straight away that he has been looking after himself. I joined him in the gym for his first session since the latest operation.

Weights for now then back in the nets by May, he hopes.

“At the moment, just coming out of surgery, you feel like you’re just treading water,” he says.

“Once I get into it, six or eight weeks down the line, then that’s when I find it quite easy. But at this stage it’s just a case of getting my head around everything again and embarking on another fitness training journey.”

He walks with a noticeable limp at the moment, but he can’t walk too far in public anyway before he is mobbed. Not that he minds that much.

There is a huge Asian community in Dubai, cricket fanatics who instantly recognise one of the sport’s iconic players of the last decade. He has time for every request, “just a smile and an autograph”, he says.

The attention is different here, there is no paparazzi culture. He can do the school run in peace.

An American tourist asks him who he is and then later asks me where “Lancaster-shire” is. An Australian from Perth makes a quip about the Ashes. And Flintoff remembers losing them there as captain in 2006.

Flintoff has been written off many times before, and he lists the seven operations he’s had in the last four years.

But he’s keen to set a few things straight. First the rumour that he’s interested in playing Tests again.

“There have been a few reports saying ‘a source close to me’ said that I missed Test cricket and the buzz of it,” he says. “You don’t have to be close to me, I’d tell a complete stranger that.

“If you spoke to Ian Botham, he’d love to play Test Match cricket tomorrow. However, I’ve retired.

“It’d be great to play Test cricket. It’s something that’s hard to give away having played 70-odd Test matches and enjoyed it as much as I have, but I retired at the end of last summer and that stands.”

As for getting back in the England one-day and Twenty20 teams, he is defiant and can’t understand the suggestion that England have somehow “moved on” and may be better off without him.

“I don’t think a team dynamic changes,” says Flintoff.

“If that means that someone tries their best to perform and puts the team above everything else, that’s the team I’ve always played in, so unless something’s changed then I don’t think I’ll struggle.

“There’s a desire to play one-day internationals for England. It seems that everyone’s got an opinion whether I will or I won’t. However, if I’m fit and playing well I’ll get in England’s best side.”

His wife, Rachael, joins us with Rocky, his youngest, as we leave the gym and take a short boat ride to the other end of the beach resort where he is being given VIP treatment.

“I know what he’s been through, the diets he’s been on, everything,” says Rachael. “Once he’s got something in his mind he really goes for it.

“We really thought he was going to be playing. I’ve literally coloured in my diary all the different countries he’s supposed to be playing. Now it’s all crossed out.

“It’s start again, and that is hard for him watching it on TV and really wanting to be there as well.”

Flintoff knows that there is a worse-case scenario, that he may never play again.

If the knee doesn’t mend this time, then that will be it. He’s prepared for life without cricket and has some “irons in the fire”. But for now, apart from “the hard yards ahead”, life is treating Fred well.

“The silver lining is that I’ve spent a lot of time with the family which I wouldn’t have got – especially watching the kids grow up,” he says.

“Taking the kids for their first day at school was far more rewarding than running Ricky Ponting out at the Oval.”

LEAVE A REPLY