London: He is not the most professional cricketer around, but former England captain Michael Vaughan says talismanic all-rounder Andrew Flintoff is second only to Sachin Tendulkar when it comes to lifting his team and the fans.
"At Cardiff, on the first day of the Ashes series, the atmosphere was dead for the first few hours but then all of a sudden Freddie came to the crease and the whole ground was lifted. It was phenomenal and no other player in world cricket - apart from Sachin Tendulkar - has that ability," Vaughan wrote in The Daily Telegraph.
"He was a great player to captain. He could be difficult at times, because he is not the most professional cricketer, but with Fred you accept the whole package," he added.
Flintoff will bid adieu to Test cricket after the fifth and final Ashes Test starting on Thursday at The Oval.
Vaughan said he always knew that Flintoff is a star but he came to realise the all-rounder's true impact on English cricket only after interacting with fans post-retirement.
"As England captain I had an awareness of how much Fred could lift the supporters, but the real significance of that did not sink in until this summer when I have sat in the crowd and seen at first hand his popularity," he revealed.
Recalling his equation with Flintoff, who also made headlines for his alcohol-related misdemeanours, Vaughan said the flamboyant cricketer needed to be comforted in tough times.
"Fred likes to be loved and he is quite soft at heart. He needs an arm around his shoulder because he does not respond to be ranted and raved at.
"I would just talk to him and remind him what good a player he was and the impact he could have on the game," Vaughan said.
The former captain, who led England to the 2005 Ashes triumph, said Flintoff was at times quite a headache when it came to disciplinary matters.
"Fred was sometimes difficult to deal with behind the scenes and I wouldn't agree with the theory that he was the heartbeat of the dressing room.
"We had our ups and downs and there were times when I would think about the headaches he caused. We would have debates and confrontation but handling that is the art of captaincy and we always had respect for each other. We have become very good friends and in fact speak more now than we ever did," he said.
However, Vaughan said for all his frailties, Flintoff is an icon and would inspire generations to come.
"Overall Fred has been a great person for the game of cricket. The public look at him and remember how he has entertained them.
"Statistically he is not a great player, but I have seen at close quarters what he has brought to the England team over the last few years and also the fans don't care about stats," he said.
Live Score, News & WC 2019 Updates