'I'm still proud to be captain' - Flintoff
After England's victory in the 2005 Ashes, a gung-ho ABC news journalist kicked open the saloon doors to Ricky Ponting's post-match press conference, and before anyone else could open their mouths, had launched into an immediate demand for the Australian captain's resignation.
It wasn't quite the same scene as Andrew Flintoff faced the press in the aftermath of today's series-sealing defeat, but the subtext was similar. Though he made a gutsy and combative 51 today to give his side a faint glimmer of salvation, Flintoff has been a man bearing an uneasy burden on this tour. He has been a character far removed from the carefree heroism of last summer.
"If the job's available, of course I still want to do it, but we'll have to wait and see what happens," said Flintoff, when asked about his long-term future in the role. "I'm still proud to be England captain, proud to represent my country, and as long as I get the opportunity, I always will be. Stick with us, we're trying, and we're going to continue to do so.
"The job's had its moments. When I took it on I realise there were a lot of good things but it has its down sides and this is one of them. To be 3-0 down having just lost the Ashes, it's not a great feeling. But I've got no regrets whatsoever, it's something I've always wanted to do since I was a kid, and it's something I'm enjoying doing."
After the highs of the 2005 triumph, Flintoff - who missed the 2002-03 series through injury - has discovered just how tough life in Australia can be for a visiting captain. "I've experienced the flip-side of the Ashes now," he said. "I can't quite describe it. I'm looking for words. Obviously it hurts, and it's hurting a lot of the lads, but we'll have to get over it because there are still two more Tests to play."
For an uplifting hour on the final morning, England looked at last like a team who were willing to fight, as Flintoff and Kevin Pietersen added 71 for the sixth wicket in 18.5 overs. "We knew it would have to be something very, very special to chase 500 in the last innings," said Flintoff. "We were never going to save it batting 90 overs, so we decided to go out and be positive. For a period you dare to dream, but then Warney got us out and we realised our fate after that."
"I think at times we've shown on the field how talented we are," Flintoff insisted, "it's just we've not been able to apply the pressure and turn the screw. Every time we've got a foot in the door they've closed it on us. We played well in patches, but I don't think we played as well as we can do. Last time [in 2005] everyone fired at the same time. I don't think that's occurred here, but Australia have played well as a unit."
Flintoff pinpointed three key moments in the series when Australia's greater knowhow had got the better of his team. "I don't know if they've been more fiercely determined than in the last series, but at the Gabba [in the first Test] they came out strongly and put us on the back foot," he said. "Then that final hour at Adelaide was bitterly, bitterly disappointing, and then in this game, we bowled them out and the wicket was good, and we were looking for a score of 350 to 450. But fair play to them, they didn't allow us, and then [Adam] Gilchrist just took the game away from us.
"The disappointment is already setting in now but obviously it will hit home tomorrow, and it'll be a tough couple of days. But there is a lot of pride and character in this team, and they want to prove they can play against Australia. There's no need for me to rally round the lads, because I get a sense of how they are feeling from how I'm feeling. We'll enjoy our Christmas I hope, and then hit them hard on Boxing Day."
Between now and then, however, the recriminations are bound to begin in earnest, and Duncan Fletcher's position as coach and role in the selection is sure to come under scrutiny. Flintoff, however, insisted that he had been fully supportive of the selections that had been made, and predicted a bright future for the likes of Alastair Cook, Ian Bell and Monty Panesar, all of whom have made great strides on this tour.
"I backed the selections," he said. "We went out with the side we thought was the best and I'm happy with the side that we've fielded. The young lads will be around for a long, long time and they've made great strides going forward. We've still got a lot of talent, we've just got to use that now in the last two Tests. We can't mope around because we need a big account of ourselves.
"Duncan has been on an even keel throughout. When a side doesn't perform particularly well, flak flies around. I copped some, the coach has copped some and so have a few of the lads, which is inevitable. It'd be nice to win for the side and win for the coach, and repay some of the faith he's shown in us."
Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo