Andrew Flintoff and his family have set up home in Dubai. Here, he offers a guide to the city and reveals why it’s the ideal location for a cricketer.
My wife Rachael and I have been on holiday to Dubai with our children (Holly, five, Corey, four, and now Rocky, one) many times. We’d always enjoyed it and about a year ago we got chatting about the possibility of living here. So after my knee operation in September we just decided to do it – the children only start school once and we thought we should get ourselves settled.
Dubai was right for me professionally as well. I’m coming back from another operation a month ago and with all the rehab I’m doing and the medical facilities here – as well as the cricket facilities for me to practise – it was a no-brainer. It’ll probably be the end of July or early August before I’m back on a cricket field again for Lancashire.
So now we’re living here. We started off in the Marina, the world’s largest man-made marina, up by the Palm. We loved it, but it was a bit of a trek to the childrens’ schools, 30 minutes or more inland. So we moved to Festival City, which is reasonably close.
I knew a few people here before the move but when you have children your social life is pretty much about them. So our gang of mates are mostly parents at the schools. We’ve been lucky with that because in the classroom there’ll be six or seven nationalities and many of them know nothing about cricket. So I’ve turned into an “Andrew” again. Either that or “Corey’s dad”, but never Freddie.
You can do pretty much anything you want in Dubai. In terms of getting around, everywhere’s within half an hour in the car. We take the kids to the beach all the time and they’re free; always running around, having swimming lessons, mucking about.
Our favourite is Jumeirah Beach, a huge stretch of sand with lots of cafés and all sorts of things to do. We’re members of the beach club at the Jumeirah Beach Hotel, and that takes in the Madinat and the Burj Al Arab, the hotel that looks like a big sail in the ocean. Dubai is superb for watersports and I plan to get a kayak and do some kayaking. But I have to be careful what I do; I can’t really waterski, for example. I would try monoskiing, but the problem is my dodgy knee’s on my right side and my bad ankle’s on my left, so I can’t really use either.
And there’s skiing, here, too, on a vast indoor ski slope at Ski Dubai in the Mall of the Emirates. I’m not allowed to ski, for obvious reasons, but it’s a great place and the kids love it.
As for eating out, again, Dubai has pretty much everything and the restaurants are spot on. There’s a group of them at the Madinat, but for its setting, Pierchic at the Al Qasr is hard to beat – you walk a hundred yards or so to the end of a pier and eat superb fish surrounded by the sea.
Our favourite place, though, is Zuma, a Japanese restaurant by the Emirates Towers. There’s one in London and the chef from there, Colin Clague, has moved here, so he’s handy for getting us a table. There are a couple of good American steakhouses, Ruth’s Chris and JW’s, at The Marriott. And for a special treat for my birthday this year, Rachael and I had dinner in the desert. That was something I’d really recommend. We eat out at least once a week but Dubai wakes early. The children start school at a quarter to eight and we’re mindful of getting them to bed on time. I’m up that little bit earlier than I used to be, too. I’m not really a morning person so these days I need a few early nights.
All of which means we don’t get out to bars much but there are dozens of great places. The hotels and sports clubs are where most people tend to go and everything’s themed – you’ve got the Irish Village, Aussie Legends, a Cricketer’s, a Jockey’s… I’ve got to say that there’s not much of Lancashire, where I’m from, represented out here. I think I’m the only Lancastrian in town. I’m thinking of starting up my own themed bar – and calling it the Red Rose Camp!
I’ve been back to England three times since we’ve been here and of course we miss friends and family. But it’s not as if we’re worlds away. Dubai is only a seven-hour flight from Britain and there is plenty to remind us of home – including a Waitrose in the Dubai Mall, the big shopping centre. My parents have been out twice – I took my mother to the Mall, and she was amazed by it.
My mate Steve Harmison [the Durham and England bowler] and his wife were also here on holiday recently. Harmi sat on a beach without any sun cream on, fell asleep and you can imagine what happened next: yup, just like a lobster.
Other activities I can recommend in Dubai include racing – we went to the opening of the city’s Meydan Racecourse the other week: it’s an awesome place. I have a share in two horses here, one called Our Giant and the other called Wonder Lawn.
And you should definitely visit the new Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world. As it happens I’m scared of heights – when I went up the Empire State Building I nearly passed out – but here I survived a trip up to the observation deck.
Best of all, my oldest boy, Corey, and I went camping for a night with some of the parents and the kids in his class – tents in the desert and a barbecue and a fire. It was only 40 minutes inland but it felt like the middle of nowhere.
Then, of course, there’s the day job – cricket. They are currently building a complex, the Dubai Sports City, dedicated to sport. In it there’s the Ernie Els Club for golf, the Manchester United academy and the ICC [International Cricket Council] Global Cricket Academy – it’s getting bigger and better all the time. The ICC academy isn’t quite finished but its practice facilities are already second to none. They’ve flown in soil from various parts of the world so they can replicate a hard wicket in Australia or a dusty one in India. You can pretty much pick your pitch and they have the right soil prepared. So once I’m back on my feet I’m going to have the world’s best places at my fingertips.
Dubai’s position geographically and its amazing facilities I think will tempt more and more people to do what we’ve done, and move here in the next few years – certainly if you’re a sportsman like me: I can be in India in three hours (once I’m back practising I’m going to spend time working in India), South Africa’s not far and England is seven hours away.
I’d love to play domestic cricket and Twenty20 in Australia, as it’s not too difficult to get to from here either. Some people have written that I’ll never come back but I’m not too fussed about that. I’m not coming back to prove anybody wrong, I’m coming back because I want to. I’ve plenty of ambition left. I want to be the world’s number one one-day player, I want to win a World Cup, win the championship with Lancashire – those are my motivations.
Have I any interest in the Ashes next winter? Yeah, sure – I’ll be watching. But I won’t be playing. Apparently “sources who are close to me” told another paper that I wanted to play. They said I missed playing Test cricket at the highest level – but I’d tell a stranger that. Of course I do. Speak to anybody who’s played Test cricket who doesn’t play now – they miss it.
Anyway, the call for the Test side is not going to happen and I’m not really in contact with the England dressing room. I texted Belly [Ian Bell] when he got his runs [141 in the recent Durban Test] – I was pleased for him because he’s a class player.
But the England team have been working hard. I don’t think they need me telling them that I’m sitting on Jumeirah Beach.
Phoning Jimmy Anderson coming in for his 30th over in 35 degrees of heat. “What you up to Jim? It’s Fred. I’m sat by the sea.”
* Andrew Flintoff has recently been appointed as a sports ambassador to Dubai. He was talking to Benji Wilson.