Flintoff braced for ultimate Test
Andrew Flintoff knows his and England’s fortunes in the Ashes decider at the Brit Oval will have a lasting impact on how history judges his career.
England’s lynchpin all-rounder admitted yesterday the outcome of the next five days could cap or “ruin” his 11 years as an international cricketer.
That may be slightly overstating the case but there is no doubt a significant contribution to an England victory that sneaks the Ashes back from under Australia’s noses could only add to the Flintoff legend in years to come.
Yet, however this npower series concludes come next Monday night - when 31-year-old Flintoff will retire from the longest form of the game - he insists he will look back with pride at a Test career that delivered everything he ever wanted from cricket.
There have been long periods of frustration because of injury and it is a sure-fire bet Flintoff would have reached the 100 Test mark had he had more luck with his fitness.
Even so, the good times have outweighed the bad, and he said: “It’s been everything I could have dreamed it could have been.
“With the injuries and going through the rehab, at times it has been tough.
“But the thought of putting on an England shirt and cap again is the one thing that gets you through.
“Having had the opportunity to wear the Three Lions around the world, walking out at venues like Lord’s or here tomorrow, I don’t think you can put into words how much I enjoy it and how privileged I have been to do it.”
Flintoff would have one Test more on his CV had England captain Andrew Strauss and coach Andy Flower not decided his knee was too much of a hindrance at Headingley Carnegie two weeks ago.
There followed an innings-and-80-run defeat that allowed Australia to level the series going into the final match.
Flintoff had made himself available in Leeds but both he and Strauss have since insisted there is no ill feeling on the topic.
Both feel, too, the break between Tests has allowed England to compose themselves, and Flintoff reports great enthusiasm and optimism in the camp.
“It’s very good, quite excitable in the dressing room - people want to get going and play,” he said.
“This Test match is a one-off. Whatever has happened before, it will be how the two teams react to the pressure occasion.
“Australia played well in the last match but we’ve had time to regroup and put that to bed.”
Flintoff may yet find himself up against a fellow centre-stage player from the drama that unfolded four years ago when England regained the Ashes for the first time in a generation.
Australia fast bowler Brett Lee has missed the first four Tests of this summer with a side strain and is still an outsider to take part in the decider.
But the nature of the Oval pitch may just sway the tourists into changing a winning team, and Flintoff is not discounting Lee’s return.
“He’s been a fine bowler. It’s been unfortunate for him - and Kevin (Pietersen) has gone through it as well - not being involved as much as they want to (this summer),” he added.
“I think it would be hard to get rid of anyone from that last Test match. If Brett plays, fine, but we have to concentrate more on getting ourselves right than who they’re picking.”