A win to cap Flintoff's career
Andrew Flintoff is preparing to put his body on the line one last time in pursuit of a victory he believes will put even his great deeds of 2005 in the shade.
Win, lose or draw in the npower Ashes decider at the Brit Oval, Flintoff has long decided the match starting on Thursday will be his final Test.
Whether or not England prevail against the odds after all - they must win to regain the urn 2-1, while a draw will do for Australia - Flintoff will then embark solely on a limited-overs career.
Barring an unmanageable recurrence of swelling in the joint after bowling in the nets today or tomorrow, he is determined to go through the pain - and consider the consequences later.
“If we won this one it would be a far greater achievement than 2005,” said Flintoff, recalling England’s shock success four years ago which ended a generation of Ashes failure.
“That was fantastic. But the side had performed well over a period of time, beaten everyone in the world - and we came in against Australia expecting to win.
“I’m not saying we’re not doing that this time, but the side’s gone through a lot over the past 12 months and has changed a hell of a lot.
“It’s my last Test, but I’m not too fussed about that. It’s more the chance to win the Ashes again.
“I’m not the first person to announce Test retirement during a series and I’m sure I won’t be the last, but the occasion is bigger than that.”
A strange series has resulted, in which each team have taken their turn to dominate - never more so than Australia when they levelled the series with an innings-and-80-run demolition of their hosts in the fourth npower Test at Headingley Carnegie.
“We’ve got young players who’ve never played in the Ashes,” Flintoff points out.
“From my point of view, with the injuries I’ve gone through to be here, this will be a far greater achievement (than 2005).”
Flintoff knows he must address his post-Ashes injury prognosis soon - but he will not be doing so until next Tuesday at the earliest.
“I must put that to the back of my mind,” he insists. “Then after the Test match, I’ll probably go and see the specialist again and look at a longer-term plan.
“But at this moment in time, it’s all about playing for five days and then worrying about it if I need to once it’s all over.”
Flintoff was an absentee from England’s crushing defeat in Leeds 10 days ago, when a last-minute decision was taken that his knee injury was too bad to risk.
Speaking today for the first time about his omission, Flintoff confirmed captain Andrew Strauss and coach Andy Flower made the call - and although disappointed, he accepted what they said.
“I would have loved to have played, obviously,” he said. “But you respect the decision. The coach and captain have a job to do.
“Sometimes, in professional sport, there are some hard decisions for them to make - and as a player, sometimes they are hard to take.
“But you move on, and I’m just pleased to be here now - with an opportunity to play on Thursday.
“It was a tough decision all-round. I would have played in the position I was in at that time.
“But Andrew decided that was not at an acceptable level, so it’s the sort of thing you’ve got to get on with.”
Flintoff reports his body is in better shape now than it was before Headingley - and he is therefore optimistic he will be part of England’s late bid to sneak the Ashes.
“I think the back-to-back Test matches obviously contributed to it going downhill a bit,” he said of his knee injury.
“But having not done too much on it in the past week or so, I’m probably in a better position now.
“Since then, I’ve just been trying to get right for this one here - which is going to be an unbelievably good game. I’m confident I’ll be all right.
“I’m sure there will be an element of swelling (after bowling in the nets). But as long as it’s not too bad, it can be managed.”
As for the Leeds debacle, Flintoff felt the setback just as hard as if he had been involved on the pitch - but believes England have recovered their composure in time.
“It was disappointing all round, not just for me,” he said.
“But that’s happened, and I think having a week off has probably worked in our favour.
“I think it would have been tough if it had been back-to-back matches - having been beaten like that.
“It’s not the first time we’ve not played too well, but we seem to always bounce back well - so I don’t expect any different in this match.”
The stakes, Flintoff acknowledges, simply could not be higher.
“This is the biggest Test I’ll ever play - not just because it’s my last but because the position of the series,” he reasons.
Asked if a win will cap his career, he responded: “Of course, it would. A loss would probably ruin it.
“It’s a great opportunity for anyone going out there to take the series by the scruff of the neck and put in a match-winning performance.”