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Freddie Hunts Springbox...
ANDREW FLINTOFF limbering up for his strong arm winter showdown against the Boks Ė by learning to box.

Flintoff has become more Rocky than Freddie in recent weeks as he pounds punch bags and dances around a skipping rope.

It is the superstar all-rounderís way of getting fit for the five-Test series against South Africa which begins next month.

Flintoff has been attending Oliverís Gym, the home of Salford Boxing Club near Manchester, most mornings for the past three weeks.

The training is tough Ė but he says he has never been in better shape. Flintoff revealed: "I train with the lads in the gym each morning, working with them on the bags and pads and doing plenty of shadow boxing.

"Itís incredibly hard Ė the first few days were brutal. Thereís one exercise which involves jumping from side-to-side over a metal bar which is almost at waist height. Itís an absolute killer.

"I do a lot of sit-ups which improves my core strength and skipping helps me be light on my feet, which is important for batting.

"Iíve learned a lot Ė itís good to see other sportsmen train in the same way as when Steve Harmison worked out with Newcastle United last winter. "But I donít think Iím going to be a title contender just yet!"

A few years ago, 6ft 4ins Flintoff used to be a real heavyweight. But his improved lifestyle and more focused approach to training means he has lost around two stone. Oliverís Gym is not some fancy health club where members go to eye-up pretty girls. This is a proper gym full of tough fighters with big ambitions. The smell of sweat and embrocation pervades the air.

Flintoff has been training especially with boxers such as WBU middleweight champion Anthony Farnell and featherweight Steve Foster. Flintoff was put in touch with the boxers by Lancashire and former England wicketkeeper Warren Hegg, who knows local fight promoter Steve Wood.

He went to the gym once last winter Ė but has become a regular this time.Flintoff added: "The first time I was really nervous. I was due there at 10am, but arrived early and parked round the corner and tried to calm myself down. "But the lads have been fantastic Ė theyíve made me feel so welcome.

"Iíve told Nigel Stockill, the England team physiologist, that Iíve been doing some boxing training and thatís fine. I combine it with the road running programme Iíve been given."

Flintoff was rested from Englandís controversial tour of Zimbabwe Ė which begins on November 15 when the squad leaves for a weekís preparation in Namibia. Freddie revealed to SunSport that he wouldnít have gone to Zimbabwe anyway because of his moral objections.

He will instead fly out to South Africa at the start of December for a tour that will provide a big clue as to Englandís progress before they take on Australia at home next summer. Freddie added: "Iíve had a complete break from cricket Ė Iíve hardly seen anything on TV or read about it in the paper. Iíve not even been watching for the results of the India v Australia series.

"I think itís really important to get away from the game and refresh the body and mind. Iíve spent a lot of time with our daughter Holly, whose two months old now, and Iíve really been getting into the boxing training."So itís not just with a bat in his hand that Flintoff can unleash a mighty hook.

Courtesy of The Sun newspaper

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