Australia v England, 4th Test, Melbourne, 3rd day December 28, 2006

Flintoff still full of cliches

Andrew Flintoff does not regret taking on the captaincy © Getty Images

England's captain, Andrew Flintoff, is running out of ways to express his disappointment on this tour. Another day, another defeat, another round of hollow insistences that his team is still full of "character" and "pride". There's still a "great spirit" in the dressing-room, he said. The lads can still "rally round", he said. And, as for next week's whitewash decider at Sydney, Flintoff still insists his team can "put on a show" for the fans.

In fact, all of his usual buzzwords were in place after this defeat, save one. Nowhere in his nine-minute address to the media did Flintoff mention one of his favourite words, "fight", which was arguably more revealing than any of the statements that he did make. To be rolled over inside three days, after all the declarations of intent that had poured forth from England's lips in the build-up to this Test, was as acutely embarrassing as anything that has befallen the team on this tour.

"It's been a tough three days," said Flintoff, in the first of many statements of the bleeding obvious. "Australia have played some very good cricket and we've been outplayed. We've not had too many answers and it doesn't feel too good at this moment in time. Sitting here, I'm obviously disappointed, upset, and a whole host of emotions which are all negative. But we've got one game left, and we don't want to leave this country having been turned over 5-0."

It's not pleasant to watch a fundamentally decent bloke being fed through the mincer, but Flintoff desperately wanted the England captaincy for this tour - he virtually twisted David Graveney's arm off in his eagerness for the role - and with every passing defeat, he's been reminded of that old saying: "Be careful what you wish for". His appearance before the cameras this evening was as unrevealing as every other appearance of the tour, although he was noticeably more peevish than he has been on previous occasions.

Asked whether he regretted taking on the captaincy, he groaned that he gets asked that every week, before following up with an emphatic "No!". Asked how much he wanted to avoid becoming the first captain for 86 years to suffer an Ashes whitewash, he snapped: "What do you think? That's a stinking question that doesn't need to be asked." And when he realised he was trotting out his usual cliché about the character of his side, he turned the statement back on his accusers, saying: "It's not nice when our heart and pride is questioned."

The pressure has been bearing down from all quarters, and it's a great sadness to behold. Not least because his own mighty presence as a cricketer has suffered. Today's innings of 25 took his series tally to 158 runs in eight visits to the crease, at the unworthy average of 22.57. But, he insisted: "I can't blame my form on the captaincy. It's just the course of events.

"I've played a hell of a lot worse than this in my career, when I was a bit younger. But I'm not playing well by any stretch of the imagination. It's disappointing how I'm performing at the minute, though it's not through any lack of effort, I'm just not in the greatest form of my life. I hope to turn it around in Sydney."

Whether Flintoff can turn his team around is another matter entirely. "I think the lads can lift themselves," he said, which didn't quite amount to a William Wallace-type call to arms. "Within the dressing-room there's a great spirit and that's been there a long time now, and it's not been dented. We're disappointed, but we're still the same characters, still the same fantastic blend of people. That's not changed, we all feed off each other, and we'll all play our part in lifting every single one of us for this last game in Sydney."

It was a statement that was intended to be upbeat, but it was delivered on a wing and a prayer. England are staring down the barrel of history when the teams reconvene at the SCG in the New Year, and Flintoff, alas, knows it only too well.

Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo