Victory would be greatest moment - Flintoff
Andrew Flintoff believes an England victory in his farewell Test would be a greater accomplishment than the team's venerated 2-1 Ashes triumph four years ago. Describing this week's Ashes decider at The Oval as "the biggest [Test] I'll ever play in", Flintoff said a final act of resurgence after a trying 12 months would be a more satisfying result than England's authoritative series win in 2005.
"It's different, obviously going in 1-1, but if we win this one it will be a far greater achievement than 2005," Flintoff said. "That was fantastic but the side had performed well over a period of time and we'd beaten everyone in the world and we came here against Australia expecting to win.
"I'm not saying we're not expecting to do it this time but the side's gone through a lot over the past 12 months. The side's changed hell of a lot. We've got young players who have never played in the Ashes. And from my point of view, with the injuries that I've had to be here, if we won it would be a far greater achievement for some of the things that have happened over the past six to 12 months."
Flintoff, training with a brace on his damaged right knee on Tuesday, began cautiously in his first bowling session since the eve of the Headingley Test, but gradually built up pace during a 20-minute spell. He expected the knee to swell after training, but insisted it could be managed with regular icing and treatment. "I'm confident I'll be alright," he said.
Flintoff admitted to disappointment over his Headingley omission - he had insisted his knee could have withdtood the rigours of the fourth Ashes Test - but declined to take aim at Andrew Strauss and Andy Flower over their decision.
"It was a tough decision all round," he said. "I'd have played at the position I was at the time but Andrew [Strauss] and Andrew [Flower] decided that wasn't an acceptable level, so that's the sort of thing you've got to get on with. Ever since then I've been trying to get right for this one here which is going to be an unbelievably good game.
"Sometimes in professional sport there are some hard decisions you have to make and as a player sometimes they're hard to take but you move on from that. I'm just pleased to be here now with an opportunity to play on Thursday."
Flintoff has placed sentimentality and thoughts of another knee operation to one side as he attempts to propel England to Ashes glory, but conceded the enormity of his decision to retire from Test cricket would likely not hit him until England's next international assignment.
"At some point in the winter when the boys are playing in South Africa I'm sure I'll want to be there and I'll be missing it," he said. "But the retirement was a decision I came to a while ago. That knee stuff, it was the final draw. I got it out there to stop the speculation over my future. Since announcing it, it's been a bit of a weight off my shoulders and I can go out there and enjoy the last game. As for sentiment and all that, I'll let you know how I can get on with that.
"I've not been thinking about the past full stop to be honest with you. I'm proud that I've played for England over a period of time, proud of some of my performances and proud I've been on a winning side for quite a long period of time. That's about as far as I've gone to be honest with you. My thoughts over the past week have been getting fit for this Test match which is the biggest I'll ever play in, not because it's my last but the position of the series - 1-1 against Australia. It's a great opportunity for anyone going out there to take the series by the scruff of the neck and put in a match-winning performance."
Alex Brown is deputy editor of Cricinfo