Family-man Flintoff looks to future
Andrew Flintoff has said he would like to be remembered as a good bloke first and foremost, after bowing out of Test cricket with the Ashes regained and few regrets to haunt him in retirement. Dispelling the notion that he qualified as a "great" player, Flintoff added that the timing of his departure, after 79 Tests in 11 years, would allow him the joy of watching his young family grow up, and that, ultimately, was of far greater value than further glories on the field.
"I would rather be regarded as a decent bloke rather than any sort of cricketer I might have been," Flintoff told reporters on the morning after the triumph. "That is far more important to me. Whatever you do on the cricket field is one thing, but being able to face yourself in the mirror every day and say 'You're not a bad egg', that is far more important. Cricket is one thing, but I want some friends afterwards.
"I don't think I ever achieved greatness and I don't profess to," he added. "I was asked, 'have you been a great cricketer', and the obvious answer is no. That's the Bothams, the Sobers, the Imran Khans, the Tendulkars, the Ricky Pontings, who achieved greatness over a long period of time by playing Test after Test after Test.
"I have had an Ashes victory twice, I have had a Test career where I have played 79 Test matches, and hopefully I will go on playing one-day internationals, so from a professional point of view I am happy," he said. "For the bulk of my career I have played through pain and with injury, so to be out on the field was an achievement in some ways. But is that greatness? No."
Flintoff's final day as a Test cricketer contained two moments typical of the man. He was unable to touch the heights of old with the ball, but his exocet arm at mid-on plucked out Ricky Ponting's off stump to turn the contest decisively in England's favour, and then, at the very end of the game, when Mike Hussey flicked Graeme Swann to short leg to fall for a gutsy 121, his first instinct was to walk straight past the cavorting huddle of team-mates that had gathered on the edge of the square, and offer the crestfallen Hussey a consoling handshake.
Flintoff, of course, made a similar gesture at the end of the Edgbaston cliffhanger in 2005, when Brett Lee was left high and dry, a mere three runs short of victory. He said that his attitude in victory had been coloured by his own experience in defeat, at the end of the thrilling ICC Champions Trophy final in 2004, when Iain Bradshaw and Courtney Browne guided West Indies to a remarkable two-wicket victory in near-darkness.
"When we won, the opposition ran around all over the place," Flintoff recalled. "We put our hands out, but there was no-one to shake hands with. When you play in a series like that you have to respect the opposition. We had plenty of time to celebrate and enjoy each other's company. It is par for the course to show the opposition some respect and shake their hands."
So often the heart and soul of England's victory celebrations, this time it was a more muted Flintoff who drank in the surroundings at the end of his farewell performance, and he even admitted a few tears were shed in the dressing-room as he reflected on the fact that he'll never again play in the ultimate form of the game.
"It was quite strange, to be honest," he said. "I didn't think I would get emotional but I did a little bit. I went up there and sat in the corner, the place I always sit at The Oval, on the left with my kit everywhere, and while the lads were jumping around and celebrating, it was a teary moment. Then I saw the Sky Sports cameras coming into our dressing room and I thought: 'No-one's seeing me crying'. I nipped into the toilets to give myself a minute and pull myself together.
"The euphoria of being in an Ashes victory again, the realisation that I will not walk out in whites again, there was a lot of mixed emotion walking around the ground," he said. "Seeing my family up in the box - my missus, the kids, my mum and dad and everyone. I enjoyed last night, however, it has actually dawned on me this morning that the next time England play a Test match I am not going to be involved, and that is something I will desperately miss. At this moment in time I am not sitting too comfortably."
Nevertheless, there was a flip side to Flintoff's emotion, and that came when the players' families - including his wife, Rachael, and their three children, Holly, Corey and Rocky - joined in the celebrations. "I was looking at the lads and how happy they were which was one thing, but then I looked at my wife and kids and I thought 'I've made the right decision here'.
"I'm probably not going to get 25,000 people in my house chanting my name," he joked. "Or people shouting 'Super Fred' when I am doing the school run. However, you know, for me, spending time with my family and having the opportunity to do that is far more important and something I'm really looking forward to doing."
Holly, the eldest, turns five in September, and Flintoff admitted that the days of long overseas tours was something he was happy to put behind him. "It is quite a nice time for me to finish," he said. "The kids are coming to an age where they need their Dad around, and I am going to be there for them. Bittersweet as it is, having to finish Test cricket through injury, the one thing I am excited about is being at home. That is far more important than pinging a few down in a Test match."
Five minutes after Flintoff's press conference had finished, he went nil- by-mouth in preparation for a general anaesthetic, ahead of the knee operation that could make or break his future as a limited-overs specialist. Already, however, he was looking beyond the knife, starting on Saturday, with the wedding of his long-standing physio, and the man who will guide his rehabilitation, Dave "Rooster" Roberts.
"That's the next biggest day in my life," he said. "Beefy is best man and I'm a page boy, which is quite fitting."
Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo