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January 5, 2007
Andrew Flintoff vowed that his first act as England's newly whitewashed captain would be to "switch off" for a day and let the tensions and frustrations of the past two months die away. But, even as Michael Vaughan was getting underway in his latest comeback match for the MCC at Bowral, Flintoff insisted he was still keen to carry on in the role.
"It's had its ups and downs," he said with a hint of understatement, "but it's quite something to get the opportunity to captain England in Australia. I enjoyed doing it and I couldn't ask any more of the lads. If I had the chance of doing it again, I'd jump at it.
"As captain, I think I've learned a lot throughout this trip. Everything I've done, I've done it wholeheartedly. Probably, over the next week I'll reflect and review on different few areas that could've been improved or could've been better, but there's a definite difference in how you feel having lost as a player and having lost as captain. There is more responsibility."
There are more post-mortems to negotiate as well, and every aspect of England's series will be coming under the microscope this week, from Flintoff's own fitness to the team's preparation, to the allegedly distracting presence of the wives, girlfriends and children for large tracts of the tour.
Flintoff, who has been accompanied throughout by his wife, Rachel, and their two children, was quick to defend their presence on the tour. "I enjoy my wife's company," he said. "To go back to your room alone at night, with the days we've had, would be tough. But when the kids answer the door, and your wife, it does enable you to switch off for a couple of hours and turn up to the next big day a bit fresher. It's better than sitting in your bed watching telly, and wallowing."
As for Flintoff's fitness, he acknowledged once again that all is not well with his troublesome left ankle, but was adamant that he would take a full part in the forthcoming one-day series, as well as Tuesday's Twenty20 match.
"It's no secret I've had a jab in my ankle and had it scanned, and there's a little inflammation," he said. "But I felt great in this Test, and I want to play in everything. There's a bit of a gap coming up after the tour, so maybe then we'll sit down in England, take stock with the medical staff and devise something long-term plans. But at this moment in time, I'm fine."
Fine, if a bit mentally drained, at any rate. "We've come up against a side who've been magnificent for five Tests," added Flintoff. "On a tour like this you've got to be on top of your game, so take nothing away from Australia. They've executed their plans, and they haven't allowed us to get back into form.
"There was expectation before this series but a lot of that came from people and places outside our dressing-room. We came here quietly confident. We knew we had a young and slightly inexperienced side, but it's a talented team, and that's one of the exciting things about it. If we are going to move forward and improve, we've got to find out everyone's experiences - not just me as captain, but the young players, the senior players. Everyone."
But, for the time being, Flintoff has only one thing on his agenda. "It's been intense stuff so I'm switching off and having a day off, with no worries about bowling plans or scoring runs," he said. "It's not a great feeling losing an Ashes series 5-0. It's not nice."
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