Flintoff has a head for business
England's talisman puts injury and emotion aside for last hurrah against Australia
There will be no tears, no heartache, no nostalgic yearnings. Andrew Flintoff, the all-round warrior, is at The Oval this week purely for the business of beating Australia and recapturing the Ashes.
The rest, as he told an audience pining for some sense of emotion and loss during his preparations for his 79th and last Test match, can take care of itself. Not for Flintoff a hobble down memory lane with a sepia-tinted DVD, a lump in the throat and a dodgy knee.
All that counts is this final encounter with Australia, assuming that dodgy knee takes the strain of the practice days before the decisive fifth Test begins tomorrow. He was in no doubt where this match, with what awaits at its end, lies in the scheme of an international career that began 11 years ago.
"It's different from 2005 because we're at 1-1, but if we win this one it will be a far greater achievement," he said. "2005 was fantastic but the side had performed well over a period of time and had beaten everyone in the world and we came here against Australia expecting to win.
"I'm not saying we're not doing that this time but the side has been through a lot over the last 12 months, it has changed a hell of a lot. We have got some young players who have never played in the Ashes, and from my point of view I've had to get over injuries to be here."
Much, maybe too much, is expected of Flintoff for his last hurrah. However the right knee on which he had surgery in May reacts in training it is unthinkable that England dare risk leaving him out again. They decided it was not in good enough condition to get him through five days at Headingley in the fourth Test and England lost in three.
If his knee becomes so swollen that he cannot walk it would still be tempting to play him. His body may be a liability but his resolve and determination to beat Australia once more are intact. One more performance of the kind he showed on the last morning at Lord's three weeks ago when he finished with a gladiatorial five for 92, may be sufficient.
"I'm not one for thinking about the past," he said. "I'm proud that I've played for England for a period of time, in 70-odd Test matches, proud of some of the performances and being on a winning a side for quite a time, but that's as far as I've gone. My thoughts in the past week have been getting fit for this Test, which is the biggest I will ever play in, not because it's my last but because of the position of the series. It's a great opportunity for anyone going out there to take the match by the scruff of the neck and put on a match-winning performance."
Flintoff left his final round of pre-Test interviews – his lack of sentimentality was noteworthy throughout – for England's practice session. He bowled for 209 minutes, sometimes at full tilt and moved more smoothly than for weeks. It is later when the joint mounts an argument, however, and today's net session will still be important.
Of his career until now he would only reflect: "It's been everything I dreamed it could have been. I have tried to be myself all the way through and I think people identify with me. I'm no different to the fellas in the crowd and if I wasn't playing I'd probably be sat with them.
"At times it has been tough with the injuries and the rehab but the thought of putting on an England shirt and a cap again gets you through. Having done it once, having the opportunity to wear the three lions around the world and walking out at venues like Lord's I don't think you could put into words how much I enjoy it and how privileged I have been to do it." All he wants is to do it one more time.
All round the block: Flintoff's Test career
Full Test history:
Runs (average) 3816 (32.06)
Highest score 167
100s 5 50s 26
Wickets taken (average) 225 (32.49)
Best innings bowling 5-58
Tests v Australia:
Runs (average) 877 (35.08)
Highest score 102
100s 1 50s 6
Wickets taken (average) 49 (32.30)
Best innings bowling 5-78
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