Exit McGrath, more pain for Flintoff

Retirements for Australia, injections for England's captain and the quick kill raise many questions

Andrew Flintoff had two more injections in his left ankle yesterday. A few hours later Glenn McGrath announced his retire-ment - he will follow Shane Warne through the Test exit door at Sydney in a few days.

In their differing ways both these events were perhaps shaping the future destiny of the Ashes, while England are still coming to terms with their catastrophic loss in this series. No McGrath and no Warne equals a significant turn in the tide of events for Australia.

But the worry deepens almost by the day that Flintoff is in huge trouble, and that his predicament will shortly present England with a difficulty almost as unassailable. There have been too many instant reactions parading themselves as miracle remedies in the past few days to suggest that Flintoff's chronic injury could be terminal, but that outcome must still be considered.

McGrath was pushed into revealing his intentions as rumours grew following Warne's departure. He had intended to disclose all before the Sydney Test but was being asked the question so often that he feared giving a misleading answer.

With the terrible, but non-identical (in almost every way) twins gone there might have been a spring in England's step, but it was considerably diminished by the lack of one in Flintoff's. The nature of their defeats and the awful prospect that they could lose 5-0 has left the tourists with enough questions to fill a cricket bag.

Can England avoid a whitewash, then regain the Ashes in 2009?

Yes and yes, although the second is more likely than the first. Australia mean business in a chilling fashion. Now they have won the series, their real intent has been divulged. They want to win 5-0, and only then would they consider the spectre of 2005 to be exorcised.

Since Perth, the home side's players have made it perfectly clear that there will be no relaxation. Far from being a distraction, the retirements may be an aid. It was possible to feel sorry for McGrath yesterday. Warne, his old partner, had been attended on by hundreds two days earlier in one of the smarter function rooms at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. McGrath was down in the bowels in an indoor cricket school saying his farewells.

But he has hardly been less potent. His haul of 555 Test wickets is the biggest by a fast bowler. Since McGrath began, he and Warne have between them taken 1,254 of Australia's wickets, leaving 1,429 to be divided among the other 49 who have bowled in their time.

But England have genuine promise, with talented young batsmen and bowlers, not all of them here, who may be capable of taking 20 Australian wickets.

Should Duncan Fletcher be fired?

It can be risky trying to gauge the national mood from so far away, but soundings suggest that the coach has taken a mighty shellacking. He probably deserves it. What he does not deserve is the sack.

Fletcher is the best coach England have had. Yet for one who can spot a glitch in batsmen's techniques with one eye shut from 500 paces he has terrific blind spots. He finds it difficult to accept that anything is his fault, and while he makes much of loyalty as the ultimate virtue (and he is right to do so) it might seem sometimes that it is a one-way street. True, he showed admirable, perhaps misguided loyalty, to Ashley Giles and Geraint Jones, but that could not be said, for instance, of his treatment of Chris Read.

He has not lost the players but he may need to regain their faith. Some still think of him as a kind of deity, others hold the view they always held: splendid coach, single-minded man, un-British sense of humour. The pluses outweigh the minuses, though the scales have tipped slightly.

What of selection?

It is a mess. The nonsense of the past few weeks was waiting to happen. Of course, the procedures at home and on tour cannot be identical, but they are far enough apart as to be alien.

A three-man panel, including Fletcher, picks the squad at home, with a selector present on the morning of the match for consultation on the XI. On tour, Fletcher and the captain pick the team. Consultation would be eminently desirable and should be insisted upon. In practice it is not happening. On the eve of the Perth Test, David Graveney rang the team's media relations manager for information on the team. Nobody expects the Fletchers and the Graveneys to be spending Christmas together, but a better working relationship is important.

It is difficult to see what could be gained by Fletcher's withdrawal as a selector. He has been one for too long. Making him the sole selector would also be foolish. He does not see enough. Graveney needs more power abroad and the pair need their heads banging together.

However, the state of selection generally was reduced further by the unwillingness to name a captain for the Commonwealth Bank Series and the selection of two keepers. Since one of them is the uncapped 36-year-old Paul Nixon - three months before the World Cup - everybody is entitled to ask what the hell the selectors have been either on or doing these past four years since the last tournament.

Why did Monty Panesar not play from the start?

Hindsight is blindingly clear. But Fletcher was swayed by two things: his loyalty to Giles and the unimpressive way Panesar bowled before the First Test. Combining the two, he (and Flintoff) came up with the wrong answer. But it was not quite the reckless choice many suggest.

Should Flintoff have been chosen as captain?

The selectors made this more difficult for themselves than necessary. Both men in contention for the job had virtues, but it was clear that too much would be asked of Flintoff. And it has been. Andrew Strauss, as he had already demonstrated, would have thrived in the role.

Flintoff's ankle has made it miserable for him despite his ever-charming smile. He has not bowled between Tests, he has not bowled more than five overs in a spell. It cannot go on like this.

Glenn's Farewell: 'It's a tough decision, and it's an easy one'

And then went the other one. It has perhaps been part of Glenn McGrath's role to be upstaged by Shane Warne. In a play with two leading men, one name usually has to be above the titles.

McGrath was never a support act but nor was he quite the outright star. It was probably inevitable that he would have his farewell overshadowed by the man who had always assumed the stage so easily, and as certain that McGrath did not mind.

They can replace me, he said; they can never replace Shane. As if rangy fast bowlers who have accuracy and bounce, and understand their worth (the true meaning of mental strength) are two a penny. "It's only been in the last few games that I've really thought about it and decided to finally hang up the boots," he said, with an occasional catch in his voice.

"It's a tough decision, and it's an easy one. It's tough because I still like playing. I love getting out there with my team-mates, the body feels great, I couldn't be happier with my bowling.

"But it's easy because of basically everything else that goes with it: the training, the travel, the time away from home. It's getting tougher to leave home with [his wife] Jane and the kids, who are growing up all the time."

He insisted that the health of his wife, who is fighting breast cancer, had nothing to do with his departure. He will be missed barely less than Warne.

Stephen Brenkley

News
One father who couldn't get One Direction tickets for his daughters phoned in a fake bomb threat and served eight months in a federal prison
people... (and one very unlucky giraffe)
Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film
Arts and Entertainment
Brendan O'Carroll as Agnes Brown in the 2014 Mrs Brown's Boys Christmas special
tvCould Mrs Brown's Boys have taken lead for second year?
Arts and Entertainment
The Plaza Theatre in Atlanta, Georgia was one of the 300 US cinemas screening
filmTim Walker settles down to watch the controversial gross-out satire
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz in Tim Burton's Big Eyes
film reviewThis is Tim Burton’s most intimate and subtle film for a decade
Arts and Entertainment
Jack O'Connell stars as Louis Zamperini in Angelina Jolie's Unbroken
film review... even if Jack O'Connell is excellent
Arts and Entertainment
Madonna is not in Twitter's good books after describing her album leak as 'artistic rape and terrorism'
music14 more 'Rebel Heart' tracks leaked including Pharrell Williams collaboration
Sport
Rooney celebrates with striker-partner Radamel Falcao after the pair combine to put United ahead
footballManchester United vs Newcastle match report
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all