Flintoff realistic despite heroics
It can often be a case of reading between the lines when it comes to post-match press conferences, but today Andrew Flintoff and Adam Gilchrist provided windows onto the soul of the England and Australia dressing-rooms. If there was any doubt about the relative serenity and bewilderment that has been driving the two sides' performances in this game, then it was banished by one look at the two players' demeanours.
Flintoff strode into the room as if he was striding to his bowling mark, full of poise and purpose and infectious good humour. "We're doing alright, aren't we!" he chirped, as he shared the plaudits for England's best day of the series with his galaxy of co-stars. Gilchrist, by contrast, was hunched and haunted. "I'm pretty relaxed at the minute," he insisted when asked how his nerves were holding up, but he was kidding no-one.
The key to the day's events had been Flintoff's partnership with Geraint Jones, which realised 177 of the finest runs of the summer. "We complement each other really well at the crease, and we've got a good relationship on and off the field," explained Flintoff, adding that their average partnership was now worth 79. For a man who has such scant regard for statistics, it was an improbable figure to have plucked off the top of his head.
"England are doing to us what we've always done to other sides," added Gilchrist, which was about as high as praise can come, seeing as he was the man who habitually did that damage. "We didn't under-estimate England," he insisted, "but it's the ultimate challenge and we are under pressure."
Pressure, on the other hand, could not be further from Flintoff's mindset. While Australia have been left to simmer in the siege environment of an cricket-fixated nation, Flintoff dropped everything after the Old Trafford disappointment and fled to France with his family and a close friend. "In France they're not bothered about the Ashes," he quipped.
This is a man with the hopes of a nation on his shoulders, but you would not believe it to look at him. He emphasised that the joy of being a husband and a father was enough to keep him switched off in his rare moments out of the spotlight, and it was this very groundedness that enabled him, upon reaching his hundred, to produce the most hyperbole-free Ashes celebration since Jim Laker's 19-wicket haul.
"I was pleased!" he protested jokingly when pressed about his lack of arm-waving and badge-kissing. "I just stick me bat up, take me helmet off and have a bit of a grin."
Besides, Flintoff was well aware that England's job is not yet done. "We're not daft," he said. "We know they can come back at you, but we've definitely put ourselves in the box-seat. We complement each other well. Different people stick their hands up when they're needed, and the momentum is with us slightly."
What Gilchrist would give for a touch of that serenity. He deadbatted a suggestion that the end of Australia's golden age had just been witnessed, but dead bats are not going to help him emerge from the biggest crisis of his - and his team's - career. "The belief is certainly there," he insisted. "I've got to get myself into a natural mindset, and it's no secret that that's an attacking mindset."
But on this evidence, he and Australia, are entirely on the back foot.
Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo