Flintoff realising Ashes dreams
Andrew Flintoff emerged from another emotional rollercoaster of a Test match and admitted the compelling drama against Australia has even exceeded his dreams and expectations of playing in an Ashes series.
The Lancashire all-rounder has waited since his England Test debut in 1998 to play in cricket’s oldest series, only for injuries and loss of form to deny him the opportunity to make his Ashes bow before this summer.
But having waited until he is 27 to make his entry into Ashes folklore, Flintoff is wasting no time and has claimed two man-of-the-match awards in the last three npower Tests, and is England’s leading wicket-taker with 19 victims.
His efforts, which included a maiden Ashes century during the thrilling three-wicket fourth Test triumph at Trent Bridge, have established England’s crucial 2-1 lead in the series with an outstanding chance of claiming an historic victory at The Brit Oval next week.
As enthralled as the nation has been at the drama, none have been as fascinated as Flintoff himself, who simply cannot believe how much he is enjoying taking on the number one ranked team in the world.
“I’m pinching myself at times,” he confessed. “I’ve always wanted to play in an Ashes series and I’ve waited and waited to play in one and I just can’t believe how good it actually is.
“I’ve never felt like this before playing cricket. I enjoy the game as much as anyone, but the feelings and emotions I’m going through right now I’ve never experienced through sport before and it’s living up to everything I expected it to be and a lot, lot more.
“We’ve got one more game left at the Oval and I’ve got one more game in me, hopefully, and a few more overs and a few more runs. I didn’t sleep very well the night before. I’d bowled all those overs during the day, but I was excited about that last day.
“I want to go out on the pitch with these England lads I’m playing with. I’m enjoying my cricket playing with the 10 guys and I was excited about walking out with them and I’m proud I’m doing so.”
One of Flintoff’s oldest cricket memories is watching the 1989 Ashes series, when Australian seamer Terry Alderman enjoyed a stranglehold over Graham Gooch and helped the tourists claim a 4-0 victory against the odds.
This time England have exceeded expectations and are now favourites to go to The Brit Oval for the final npower Test and claim the draw or the victory to win the Ashes for the first time since 1986-7 with every player establishing themselves as modern sporting heroes.
“I remember growing up watching the Ashes on television, watching Alderman knocking over Graham Gooch all the time,” recalled Flintoff. “Back in those days I never dreamed of playing in one and - now I am doing - I’m just going with it.
“I put far too much pressure on myself in the first Test and now I’m just enjoying my cricket and going out there with a great and talented group of lads and we’re having fun.”
Like the rest of the nation, Flintoff was forced to endure another nail-biting finish to the last Test after being dismissed by Brett Lee just 18 runs short of victory - forcing him to live through the final, painful moments on the team balcony at Trent Bridge.
Having gone so close to guiding England home himself, he was considerably relieved when Ashley Giles hit the winning runs four overs later and sparked frenzied celebrations long into the night.
Flintoff said: “It was another rollercoaster ride for us. The first day and my hundred seemed a long way away by the time we had finished the game - I’ve never experienced anything like that.
“When I got out and I was sat up in the dressing room, I didn’t know what to do with myself. I was really sick at one stage, it was unbelievable, and I got quite emotional at the end when Ashley knocked the winning runs off.
“I never thought we’d lost it because the partnerships we needed were very small, but there’s always that devil on your shoulder just chipping away at you. It was a massive release when we got over the line and I think we can be proud of what we achieved there.”
Flintoff’s next engagement alongside the rest of England’s Ashes heroes will be at Headingley on Wednesday for a Twenty20 match to raise funds for England captain Michael Vaughan’s benefit year before he assembles again next week for the final chapter of this summer’s thrilling Ashes contest.