WELL Howzat for a career move?

Andrew ‘Freddie’ Flintoff, the English cricketing legend, has switched his bat for the boards and become an actor.

Viewers may have seen his cameo in Kay Mellor’s well received BBC1 drama Love Lies and Records just before Christmas and the appearance has led to a starring role in Fat Friends, the musical based on the popular noughties slimming comedy which launched the careers of James Corden, Sheridan Smith and Ruth Jones.

The leading all rounder, who has appeared as a panellist on Sky 1’s A League of Their Own sports comedy show since retiring from cricket in 2010, even has to sing in the show, which is in Southampton next month.

“We spend a lot of time laughing,” he told me during a break from rehearsals. “The first couple of days were interesting, I didn’t know what I was getting into, I’ve never been in anything like this before. I heard the other people singing for the first time and I was shocked. I never knew anyone could sing that well! I spent the first few days just getting my head around it. But everybody’s been so good, especially as I’m going into their world. They’ve really helped me a lot.

“Most of the stuff I do for A League Of Their Own, we do get ourselves into some strange situations and do strange stuff, but you just react to it. Whereas with this you need to learn lines, where to stand, what to do, you need to actually become someone else. But it’s been good fun. At first, I was just building up the confidence singing in front of people who are very good singers. I’m just learning, trying to be the best I can be.

“You’ve got a big theatre haven’t you?” he laughs, referring to the 2,200 capacity Mayflower, the third largest auditorium in the country. “Good, it might drown out my singing!”

The reviews so far, particularly for his solo number as Kevin, have been exceptional.

Even in his cricketing whites, Freddie always had a penchant for drama and has missed the adrenaline rush and the nerves of going out to bat.

“Every time I played cricket I was nervous. Every time I went out to bat, I was so nervous, but I never let people know. I used to walk out there as if I owned the place. That was half my game to be honest! But I’m actually looking forward to being nervous again, I used to enjoy being like that going out to bat. I will have to remember my lines, where to stand, how to react. I’m more confident now, but the nerves will definitely be there.”

But there were never any superstitions and that won’t start now.

“I played with people who had so many superstitions, they wouldn’t do this or that. I put my kit on, went out and played. There was this South African lad who had to do all sorts, even making sure all the toilet lids were down! There’s enough to do without worrying about things that don’t matter!”

Acting was never part of his career plan admits 40-year-old Freddie, a ferocious bowler who hit sixes for fun during an epic Lancashire and England career.

It was Lynda La Plante who first imagined him acting when she was auditioning for the prequel to Prime Suspect two years ago. He didn’t get the part, the network considering him too much of a risk, but the audition process did spark an interest and led to 18 months of acting lessons.

“I’d never even thought about being on stage, but you’ve got to grab these chances. A lot of people have asked me why do it, but why wouldn’t you do it?”

So is he a fan of the theatre these days?

“I am. I must admit when I was younger, I did wonder what it was all about! In the last few years, I’ve grown up a bit. Playing sport, you get a bit one eyed, thinking this is the only thing that matters and everyone else is strange, but I think we’re probably the strange ones playing cricket!

“Since retiring, I’ve spent time with different people from different backgrounds like Jack (Whitehall, the comedian and one of his A League Of Their Own co-stars). I’ve been quite a bit since, I’ve seen quite a few things with my daughter and my wife and I enjoy it. watching theatre I’ve always found it interesting that people on stage seem to be having more fun than the people in the audience! I don’t mean that in a bad way. In a strange way, I think I will feel more comfortable up there on stage than in a crowd of people, but we will see.”

Freddie openly admits he still wishes he could play cricket but, for now, acting is proving an enjoyable substitute for sport.

“I’m enjoying it, but I did spend years not being that happy. Don’t get me wrong I’d swop everything tomorrow to play cricket again, that’s for sure. But I don’t sit around any more thinking I’m a retired cricketer, I should be playing cricket, why aren’t I playing cricket? I’m enjoying my cricket again, it’s fun again. I take my boy and I can watch Lancashire or England and I can sit in my deck chair and enjoy it. I’m a bit more mellow than when I was a player and more content, which has brought out the best in me.

“I still dream about it. I don’t know why. I’m sure there’s a reason for it if I was on a psychiatrist’s couch. Sometimes I do wake up in the morning and it takes me five minutes to realise ‘you’re retired’. It’s all I ever wanted to be growing up to be a cricketer and I finished at 31. But the opportunities and experiences have been amazing. You’ve got to grab it.

“I’d like to do more acting, but I don’t sit and think about five years time. I’m quite relaxed, as long as my family are alright.

“I like seeing what happens, rather than having a contract, getting the fixtures and playing, with this you see what life throws up. The good thing that since retiring, I haven’t had to do anything I didn’t want to do. I’ve enjoyed it all.

“I like not having to give an opinion on cricket. I can go and watch it, sit in the stands or sit in my deck chair and watch. I couldn’t think of anything worse than sitting in a commentary box all the time. Why would I want to do that when I could be on stage at the Mayflower in front of more people than would be watching me play cricket a lot of the time?!”

Fat Friends is at Mayflower Theatre from February 5 to 10.

Tickets: 023 8071 1811 or mayflower.org.uk