If England and Andrew Flintoff are once again to get the best out of Andrew Flintoff he needs to be relieved of the captaincy. Not during this series, because the man does not deserve to be treated in such a manner. But it is only once the burden has been removed from those giant shoulders that he will be able to play with the freedom that allowed him to become the best cricketer in the world.
There is no pleasure to be had in saying that, because Flintoff continues to represent everything that is good in the game and he deserved the chance to captain his country. He plays with pride, heart and honesty, and since taking over from Michael Vaughan in India he has attempted to lead England by example.
Attempted is the key word, though, because here in Australia his efforts to set the right tone and to provide his side with the inspiration they so desperately need have been undermined by the ankle injury that continues to trouble him.
Flintoff has always had ambitions to captain but he is not a natural leader. He does not enjoy being the centre of attention. He is a shy man by nature and is uncomfortable when asked to stand up and speak in front of a crowd of people.
It could be seen yesterday at each of the drinks breaks when his side were toiling in the field through a boiling, sapping day. With England's hopes of retaining the Ashes slipping faster than dollars through Mike Tyson's fingers the moment was crying out for someone to get in the middle of the group and chivvy the team along. But Flintoff stood on the periphery, sucking on an isotonic drink and contemplating his lot.
It would be a trifle unfair to lambast his methods, tactics and field placings, because so much is reliant on the quality of the bowling. Vaughan was made to look like a genius in 2005 because his bowlers were at the top of their games. And during Australia's first innings in Adelaide and Perth, there were many complimentary things said about Flintoff's captaincy.
He has an uncomplicated and realistic outlook towards captaincy. Bowlers generally do. They set a field and they then want to bowl to it. They do not like it to be constantly tinkered with because it is an unwelcome distraction. Three slips, gully, short-leg, now let me get on with it. That is the fast bowler's way.
But this style of captaincy is no longer enough. Modern skippers have to be innovative and proactive. They are expected to change the field constantly. The last thing they can do is let the game drift. What rubbish. At times Flintoff has been lured into following this fashion; and those moments have been when he has looked most vulnerable.
Flintoff's problems as captain and the decline of his batting are not due to a lack of tactical nous, they have been caused by the inability to bowl as he did in 2005. Sixteen months ago Flintoff was a colossus because of what he achieved with a ball in his hand, and it is the inability to repeat those feats here which has prevented him from leading by example, denting his stature and confidence.
Flintoff maintains that his ankle is fine, but it cannot be. There can be no other reason for him bowling no more than a five-over spell on the tour. Vaughan used Flintoff brilliantly in 2005. He bowled him at all the crucial times in spells of seven, eight, nine and, in the case of The Oval, 15 overs.
It is these performances on flat pitches and in difficult circumstances that fill onlookers with pride. They are the sort of displays that demand respect and leave team-mates in awe. Yet he has been unable to produce a single spell of this stature while the Ashes were alive.
Flintoff's problems with the bat are technical and mental. Like a lot of big men, he struggles with fast bowling - it is no coincidence that the best players of pace tend to be diminutive and light on their feet. Unsurprisingly, their size makes it easier to get out of the way of a missile that is aimed at the throat and travelling at 95mph.
Flintoff's innings on Friday was that of a confused and fractured man. His technical shortcomings were exposed by Brett Lee's pace and hostility. No matter how hard he willed his feet to move back and across they wouldn't. But rather than leave Lee alone and watch the ball pass harmlessly through to Adam Gilchrist he wafted aimlessly, and could have been out on several occasions before edging Andrew Symonds to slip.
The constraints placed on his bowling have, inevitably, put extra pressure on him when he walks out to bat. Cricket used to be a very simple game for Andrew Flintoff. With a ball in his hand he tried to hit a good length as often and hard as he could, and with the bat he tried to give the ball a good wallop. Life has suddenly become far more complicated, and he is a lesser player because of it.
Tour News: Giles returns to tend wife
Ashley Giles left England's Ashes tour last night to be with his wife, Stine, who has a potentially serious illness. It is understood that she has a brain tumour.
Jamie Dalrymple, the off-spinning all-rounder who has been with the National Academy squad in Perth, has been called up as a replacement to the Test party.
England's coach, Duncan Fletcher, paid tribute to one of the players in whom he has placed most trust over the past six years.
"This must be extremely difficult for him. Knowing the man as I do, he is a real professional cricketer. I have been involved with him for seven years now and I rate him probably the most professional cricketer I have dealt with in England, or in the top three.
"For a man like that who is passionate about playing for England and got upset when he wasn't and who took flak when he came back, this must be very hard. I just hope everything turns out fine for the family."
Giles was dropped for this match after playing in the first two Tests. In his year-long absence while his injured hip recovered, he commented frequently on Stine's perpetual encouragement and resolve.
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