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'Freddie fever' grips Australia

Talkback radio callers have even paid Flintoff the ultimate accolade for a Briton, saying they wish he had been born in Australia.

india Updated: Oct 10, 2005 12:51 IST

England's Andrew Flintoff may have expected a cool reception when he arrived Down Under after humbling Australia's once mighty cricket team -- instead he set off a bout of "Freddie fever."

The all-rounder who spearheaded England's first Ashes win in 16 years as been hailed as a hero in Australia's second city of Melbourne, which bills itself as the sports capital of the world.

He got a standing ovation simply for bringing on drinks for the International Cricket Council World XI in a warm-up match on Sunday. Then he received rapturous applause at a civic reception a day later.

Talkback radio callers have even paid him the ultimate accolade for a Briton -- saying they wish he had been born in Australia so he could wear the national team's famous baggy green cap.

Indian batting great Rahul Dravid saw the Freddie phenomenon first hand when he arrived in Melbourne on the same 5:30am flight as Flintoff on Friday, and was totally ingnored by a large media throng intent on grilling the Englishman.

Dravid got the message and jokingly arrived wearing a Flintoff mask at a press conference to publicise the Super Series beginning on Wednesday, which pits Australia against a star-studded lineup of international cricketers.

Another Flintoff mask turned up at the Melbourne function, this one carried by a female fan who had scrawled GOD across her idol's face.

Craig Gill, the leader of England's "Barmy Army" of supporters, said no Briton had received such a warm welcome in Australia since The Beatles.

"I've not seen anything like it," he told AFP. "OK, we've got this great rivalry but the Aussies know class when they see it -- and Freddie's got loads of it."

The fact that Flintoff likes a beer does him no harm in Australian eyes.

The public read reports from London of his all-night Ashes victory celebration with amusement, recalling former Australian batsman David Boon's 1989 feat of drinking 52 "tinnies" on a flight to London.

The sportsmanship shown when Flintoff put a comforting arm around Aussie paceman Brett Lee's shoulder after England's victory at Edgbaston was also appreciated by Australians, many of whom cringe at their own team's tactics of sledging and "mental disintegration."

Flintoff said he had been pleasantly surprised by his welcome.

"I wasn't quite sure what to expect but the people I've spoken to have been great, congratulating not just myself but England on a great performance," he told reporters.

"I've had a few people coming up and shaking my hand and saying well done. I went with the family around the streets of Melbourne and people were doing, like, a double-take more than anything."

But Gill had a message for Australians casting covetous eyes at the burly Lancastrian.

"You can't have him -- he's ours."

First Published: Oct 04, 2005 12:19 IST