Former captain Andrew Flintoff has backed England to conquer the world and initiate an era of dominance under the leadership of new Test skipper Joe Root.
The 26-year-old was installed as the country’s 80th captain last month, taking the reins from Alastair Cook who called time on his four-and-a-half year tenure following a dismal winter in India.
Root is currently in the Caribbean for England’s one-day series against the West Indies as white-ball cricket dominates the calendar in the build-up to June’s Champions Trophy in England and Wales.
His captaincy will begin in earnest following that tournament, when England face Test showdowns with South Africa and the West Indies, all of which precedes the winter tour of Australia.
Flintoff’s forecast of English global supremacy includes the retention of the Ashes Down Under, and the ex-all-rounder is not just predicting victory, but Australian annihilation.
“With the side he [Root] has got, if they don’t dominate world cricket I think they will have underachieved,” Flintoff told City A.M.
“We’ve got South Africa and the West Indies this summer – I would expect England to beat them. Then it’s Australia in the winter.
“It’s not a case of beating Australia, it’s a case of hammering them. If we don’t win the Ashes then I think that will be a massive failure.
“It’s been a tough place to go historically, but there is nothing there that suggests they should be a problem for England.
“Their side is not as good as it used to be and England are far, far better. I don’t see winning the Ashes being so much the issue, it’s more how many we win it by.
“We should be looking to win at least three [of five] Test matches, possibly four.”
Flintoff, who captained England for 11 Tests, would have liked to see Cook continue as skipper for another 12 months, insisting he had earned the right to finish on a high.
But, equally, it is the quality of resources at Root’s disposal, despite the side enduring a mixed 2016, which gives Flintoff few worries over the timing of the Yorkshireman’s promotion.
“Usually captains take over when a side is struggling or at its worst, but I think with this side that Joe is taking on, it’s the complete opposite,” he added.
“He’s got some of the best players England have ever had. Potentially, I think they’ve got the best side that England could have. As England captains go, taking over, this is the best time ever.
“Recent captains: Alastair has been brilliant, Andrew Strauss was unbelievable and [Michael] Vaughan the same, so he’s got some big acts to follow. However, he has got more within in this team than those captains had.
“You’ve got Jimmy Anderson, England’s best ever bowler; Stuart Broad, who has taken over 360 Test wickets; Alastair; Joe himself; Ben Stokes, who could be the best all-rounder this country has produced.
“All the ingredients are there. You look at the support staff too, there is almost a member of staff for every player, so he has everything he needs. I wouldn’t back against him becoming a great captain.”
Flintoff’s tipsy post-Ashes celebrations in 2005 and the infamous “Fredalo” incident during the 2007 World Cup in the Caribbean are just two snapshots of his gregarious nature.
Root, too, is noted for his joie de vivre, and Flintoff, who asserts he “wasn’t very good” as England captain, has his views on how the new incumbent should approach the job.
“All you can do is make your own decisions because ultimately you’re going to be judged by performances and success,” said Flintoff.
“If it goes well, brilliant. If it doesn’t, you want to have done the job exactly how you wanted to do it.
“Joe seems to be light-hearted, but I’ve played with a lot of people who seem like that to the outside world, but within the dressing room or on the field it is a totally different story.
“They might have a smile on their face, but the fire is burning within.”
Flintoff’s prediction of a golden period for English cricket is not restricted to the longer form of the game. The Champions Trophy offers England their latest chance to lift major international 50-over silverware for the first time.
“We should be looking to win it,” added the 39-year-old. “Every competition or series which England now enter, we should be up there being the favourites.
“One-day cricket is something we’ve been average at ever since the game started. We’ve never really had an identity or a way of playing. But the new players have now got that.
“England have to go into that tournament expecting to win it and anything less than that, maybe failure is a bit too strong, but you’d be upset.”
England’s white-ball ascent was referenced in last month’s Indian Premier League (IPL) auction when all-rounder Stokes commanded a bid of £1.7m – a record for an overseas player.
Twenty20 specialist Tymal Mills also went for big money, although Flintoff has a word of warning for some of England’s IPL exports – and Lancashire wicketkeeper-batsman Jos Buttler, in particular.
“I reckon Mills will be pinching himself. He bowls four overs and gets £1.4m – good on him,” added Flintoff, who joined football fans on their sofa during the last 16 of the Champions League as part of Sony Xperia’s sponsorship of the competition.
“I don’t see it as a positive for English cricket. These players might improve a little while they’re over there but I think it’s more for the individual than our game.
“If I was Jos Buttler, or looked after him or had anything to do with him, I would tell him to stay at home, play for Lancashire and try and get in the Test team. Get his longer version of the game right.
“When you look back on a career, you might look at a bank balance. However, satisfaction is playing for England, not playing in the IPL or Big Bash.
“There is no question over his white-ball cricket and, looking at Jos’s contract in the IPL, if he played Test cricket he’d earn more money. That would be my advice.”
As for Cook, the man replaced by Root and who made his Test debut in 2006 under Flintoff’s captaincy, the Lancastrian expects him to scale the loftiest of batting heights.
“Realistically, he should be looking to break Sachin Tendulkar’s record [of 15,921 runs].”said Flintoff.
“He got to 10,000 runs younger than Sachin, even though he started later.
“The thing about English cricket is we’ve had players who are perceived to be legends of the game. Maybe by English standards we have got a few, but I don’t see many on the world stage.
“I think Alastair can be an absolute legend of the game by scoring 14-15,000 runs, so too could Jimmy Anderson with the ball. Jimmy should be looking at 500-600 wickets which would put him into a different stratosphere to his predecessors.”