I stop short of greatness - Flintoff
The memories of the heady evening before were still sharp in the mind of Andrew Flintoff. This time, unlike 2005, there had been no excessive revelling.
He had enjoyed a beer with his dad Colin. Had a meal with wife Rachael. Chewed over a compelling Ashes series with Australia captain Ricky Ponting and fast bowler Peter Siddle. Savoured the moment with his team-mates.
He even admitted to a “teary” moment at the Brit Oval when he sat alone and took in the enormity of a second Ashes victory and the fact that he had played the last Test match of his career, although he packed away the emotion pretty quickly when he spotted a television camera in the vicinity.
Then, English cricket’s fearsome fast bowler, champion drinker, loveable rogue and all-round comic-strip hero, even though he insists he was never a great player, revealed what he is looking forward to doing most in his life after Test match cricket. The school run.
“It is actually quite a nice time for me to finish,” said Flintoff, who played with his children Holly, Corey and Rocky on the Oval pitch during Sunday’s celebrations.
“The kids are coming to an age where they need their dad around and I am going to be there for that. Bittersweet as it is having to finish Test cricket through injury, the one thing I am excited about is being at home.
“I am not going to get people shouting ‘Super Fred’ when I am doing the school run. However, for me that is far more important than peeling a few down in a Test match.”
In many ways that sentiment went to the core of what Flintoff the man, the 2009 version, is all about.
A tough, intimidating showman on the field. A hell-raiser at times off it. A man, however, who values family and friendship above everything.
As he toyed with a soft drink at the England hotel on the Thames by Tower Bridge, five minutes before his deadline for ‘Nil by mouth’ on account of the imminent operation on his problematic right knee, it was easy to see why Flintoff holds a special place in the hearts of English sports fans.
And why he will go down along with Sir Bobby Charlton and Sir Ian Botham and yes, the late Sir Bobby Robson, as one of the most treasured of English sporting figures.
He has his own take on why he connects so easily with the common man.
“One of the things the crowd identify with is that if I was not on the field I would be sat next to them,” he said.
“I would be in the thick of the ‘Barmy Army’ with a pint and singing away with the rest of them.”
And you know that is true. The curious aspect of Flintoff’s career, however, is that the statistics do not support the iconic status.
He has taken only three five-wicket hauls in 79 Tests and never taken 10 wickets in a match. He has scored just five centuries compared with Botham’s 14.
Yet when England have needed inspiration most, Flintoff invariably has been there. His daring deeds were instrumental in delivering the Ashes in 2005.
At Lord’s last month it was his five-wicket haul which won the game. And even when he failed with bat and ball at the Oval it was his run-out of Ponting which proved the decisive factor.
Flintoff undoubtedly has raised the performance levels of those around him but is he one of the greats of the game? Is he up there as an all-rounder with the likes of Botham and Kapil Dev?
Many cricket fans would say 'yes'. Flintoff, resoundingly, says 'no'.
“I have never achieved greatness and I don’t profess to,” he said. “I was asked, 'Have you been a great cricketer?' and the obvious answer is 'no'.
“That’s the Bothams, the Sobers, the Imran Khans, the Tendulkars, the Ricky Pontings who achieved greatness over a long period of time, playing Test after Test after Test.
“I have performed at times and I am proud to have done that. For the bulk of my career I have played through pain and with injury so to be out on the field was an achievement in some ways - but as for greatness? Nah.
“But I played in a team which performed and I’m sat here now happy with myself and proud.”
Humble. Generous to a fault. And still confident that he can become the greatest one-day cricketer in the world, although to questions of whether he should be knighted Flintoff said: “Don’t put your mortgage on it.”
So after 79 Tests, 3,945 runs and 226 wickets, the greatest comic book story since Botham comes to an end. How would Flintoff like to be remembered?
“I’m probably not going to get in my house 25,000 people chanting my name,” he said.
“But whatever you do on the cricket field is one thing. Being able to face yourself in the mirror every day and say ‘You’re not a bad egg’ - that is far more important. As a bloke I hope not to be regarded as a bad 'un.”
On that score ‘Freddie’ surely can rest easy.