England v Australia, 5th Test, The Oval, 4th day August 24, 2009

Sober Flintoff hungry in spite of surgery

The morning after England's 2005 Ashes victory, Andrew Flintoff could barely stand, having enjoyed an all-night vigil at the bar which continued well into the following day. Fast-forward four years and it was a much more sober and mature Flintoff who reflected on his second series triumph over Australia and prepared himself for another long period of rehabilitation.

With England securing the Ashes in four days, Flintoff's knee operation has been brought forward to Monday evening and by the time he left his press conference he was already nil-by-mouth. There'll be no more champagne or beer, at least until the general anaesthetic has worn off. Four years ago he wouldn't have needed any drugs to get through major surgery.

Flintoff's morning-after feeling this time was more to do with the realisation that he faces another painful round of recuperation from his latest surgery. When news of his operation was first reported last week a nine-month lay-off was one figure bandied around, but the man himself will wait and see how the procedure goes and hasn't ruled out a return for the one-day series in Bangladesh next February.

"The fortunate thing about winning a day early is that they have brought my op forward," he said. "I can get that done tonight - then it's all about getting fit. The harsh reality is now that I need to get my knee sorted out. It's made me more determined to get back to playing fit. Last week was a hard one for me, lots of talks with the surgeon but the incentive is wearing the three lions and I desperately want to wear them again, albeit in one-day matches and Twenty20s.

"The surgeon has a good idea of what he's going to find. I think it'd be wrong for me to speculate on that. Then, like I say, the rehab... we'll see when I wake up after the anaesthetic and see where I'm at with it.

"Realistically I think before Christmas I'm going to struggle. Obviously I've retired from Test cricket but there's a tour to Bangladesh which I desperately want to be involved in. So realistically I think that could be my first cricket after this Test. I want to be the best one-day cricketer in the world and I can set my sights on that."

While Flintoff repeated his desire to be the best limited-overs player on the planet he wants the Test team that he leaves behind to learn from the mistakes of 2005 and build on their success to become the top side in the world. That was Michael Vaughan's aim, but the victory and the subsequent lengthy celebration wasn't used in the right way and the team went backwards over the next four years.

"What I think we need to do is, if there's any lesson to learn from 2005 now, it's to go for domination, to try to get number one in the world," Flintoff said. "We've got the talent, we've got the side to do it. It's just a case of believing it and putting it into practice. One comforting thing is, having seen yesterday and the past five Test matches, is that I'll disappear and the England side will be in good hands

"The likes of [Jonathan] Trott coming in and everybody's forgetting about KP. Our best player has not played the bulk of this Test series. So the future of the side is in good hands. There's no reason why we can't be the best in the world. We're a very talented team - but we can't get carried away."

What makes this victory even more remarkable was that at the beginning of the year the team was in turmoil with the fall-out between Kevin Pietersen and Peter Moores which led to both losing their jobs. That was followed by the 51 all-out demise at Sabina Park and at that time no-one would have believed this team would be even be able to challenge for the Ashes. For that stunning turnaround, there can be no praise high enough for Andrew Strauss, the man who managed to glue a fractured side together and make them play for each other again, as they did in 2005.

Strauss formed the type of team spirit that was absent in 2006-07 when the Ashes we handed back with the 5-0 whitewash down under, when Flintoff was preferred as captain and he struggled to combine the roles of leading player and leading man. He has admitted it was a role too much for and that Strauss was the right man all along.

"I think in a roundabout way we got to the right man for the job," he said. "There was lot of speculation [about who would be captain] between me and him for the last Ashes series in 2006-07. I said before, I probably took one for the team there. We got beat but it's enabled Straussy through different circumstances to take over.

"Straussy leads by example, not just with his batting but with the way he conducts himself. He's a popular lad. I'm sure in four or five years' time when someone else is sat in this chair being asked what Andrew Strauss was like as a captain... he was a belter."

Andrew McGlashan is assistant editor of Cricinfo

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