Andrew Flintoff has expressed his disappointment that Old Trafford has lost out to Cardiff in the race for the 2009 Ashes, and believes that the decision has been made for commercial rather than purely cricketing reasons.
"To be honest, I was gutted when I found out," said Flintoff, speaking at the launch of Sky Sports' cricket coverage at the Conrad Hotel in Chelsea. "This is a venue that had full houses for five days, with 20,000 people locked out of one of the best Tests you'll ever see, one that went right down to the wire. I'm very, very disappointed we've not got one [in 2009]."
Old Trafford was the venue of Australia's great escape in the third Test in August, the moment when Ashes fever officially gripped the nation. The scenes on the final morning, when thousands of fans flocked to the turnstiles in a bid to witness a slice of history, have come to encapsulate the spirit of the summer.
"It was amazing, I've never seen Old Trafford like that before," said Flintoff. "I've played in front of biggish crowds, but to play in front of full houses for five days, and to see people being locked out ... they're usually locking them in at our place!"
The scenes were so chaotic that Flintoff even needed to cut a few corners in order to arrive at the ground on time. "I was staying at home in Knutsford," he recalled, "and I didn't realise so many people were going. The traffic was a mile back, and I ended up having to go down the wrong side of the road to get to the ground. I arrived about ten minutes late, but there were a few people behind me so I got away with it."
In all probability Flintoff has played his first and last Ashes Test on his home ground. Old Trafford again missed out in 2001, as did Flintoff himself, and by the time the 2013 series comes around, he will be 36. Unless Cardiff can generate a similar fervour when the Ashes arrive in four years' time, the absence of Old Trafford will be England's loss.
"I remember bowling that last hour," recalled Flintoff. "I was physically exhausted because it had been a long Test. But then the crowd started up again and that gives you something extra, I think that lifted all the lads that came back [on to bowl], and as you can imagine, I'm disappointed it's not going to happen in next Ashes series."
The decision to overlook Old Trafford has brought the future of the county ground under renewed scrutiny, with further speculation that Lancashire will be forced to relocate to a purpose-built stadium in another part of Manchester. "It is a kick in the teeth," admitted Jim Cumbes, the chief executive, when the decision was announced. "Not just for the club, but for the North-West as a whole. This region is a hot-bed of cricket."