Flintoff's captaincy under scrutiny
Tuesday 19 December 2006
At 2.13pm Western Summer Time yesterday England surrendered the Ashes. They had held them for a mere one year and 98 days, having previously been without them for 16 years and 142 days. It was nice, nay it was magnificent while it lasted, but as soon as Australia lost the 2005 series in England, they began plotting vengeance.
The upshot has been catastrophic for Andrew Flintoff's team and the third consecutive defeat, this time by 206 runs, ensured that retribution was exacted. Not quite in full, because according to the victorious captain, Ricky Ponting, his team are by no means sated.
"The way we have played each Test match we have deserved to win all three," he said. "A lot of hard work has gone in to it. I know for a fact that a lot of the guys aren't finished. They want to finish this series off on a bright note.
"The planning started soon after we got back from England. We had a very short break before the Super Series against the Rest of the World, then we sat down and addressed the whole Ashes series and where we felt we went wrong and what was holding us back."
Ponting's comments and the obvious craving of his team seemed to magnify England's failings both in preparation and execution. Flintoff offered a mature and considered analysis in the immediate aftermath of the humiliation, but stood by the team selections.
"When we started this series we obviously didn't want to be 3-0 down in Perth. I have experienced both sides of the Ashes, having won them in 2005 and getting the flip side this time. I'm not quite sure I can describe it, I'm looking for words. It hurts and a lot of the lads are hurting. We have to get over it because we have two more Test matches to play."
The urn containing the original Ashes is on a tour of Australian museums and Ponting mischievously suggested it should stay. "Surely, it's too flimsy to be flown back," he said.
Although the tourists have been thoroughly outplayed by a team who appeared to be fully aware of their destiny, they could at least reflect on resistance that was more than token in the final two days of the decisive match. Briefly yesterday morning Flintoff and the admirable Kevin Pietersen took the attack to Australia. But in Flintoff's case at least it was little more than hitting and hoping.
"We knew it would have to be something very, very special to score 500 and odd runs on the last day," he said. "I don't think we were ever going to save it batting 90 overs, so we decided to go out and be positive. It was working for a period and for a period you dared to dream. Warne got me out and after that we started losing wickets and you realised your fate."
In truth, that fate was probably sealed from the first ball of the series, a wide delivered by Stephen Harmison that ended up in Flintoff's hands at second slip. It reminded all concerned of how lacking in preparation and fitness this squad were. There was no way back.
"I think at times we have shown in the field how talented we are," said Flintoff. "We have not been able to apply the pressure that we would like to have done and every time we had a foot in the door they have closed it on us. We have never really managed to turn the screw."
Questions will rage now about Flintoff's role as captain, especially when he has so much else to do. He has not been helped by his ankle injury which has clearly recurred despite more surgery and an extensive rehabilitation campaign.
"I am still proud to be England captain and always will be. Just going over the ground to see the fans shows what the England cricket team means to people. When I took the job I realised there would be good things and down-sides and this is one. It has been tough at times but I have no regrets whatsoever. It's something I have wanted to do since I was a kid and something I enjoy doing."
Whether he can enjoy doing it for much longer is doubtful. Flintoff is aware that the vultures are circling over both him and the coach Duncan Fletcher. The side for the one-day series will be announced on Thursday and rumours are rife that Michael Vaughan is to be recalled as captain. If so, it would seem to be another gamble by the selectors. Vaughan's knee is by no means fully cured.
"When a side loses there is flak flying around," said Flintoff. "The coach has copped some, I've copped some and so have some of the lads. It would be nice to win the next two for the side, for the coach, and to put a smile on the faces of all the people coming out here."
In the wreckage of another defeat such a modest aspiration seemed utterly forlorn.
'Fletcher's Giles pick, his Panesar pick ... they couldn't be more wrong'
"His Ashley Giles pick, his Monty Panesar pick, his Marcus Trescothick pick and Geraint Jones- they couldn't be more wrong. It couldn't have gone worse for him and a lot of the criticism is going to go in Duncan's [Fletcher] direction." - Nasser Hussain
"After losing the Ashes we had to go back and look at ourselves. We had to try to find ways to improve. I think this has been second to none. Adelaide was the best win I've been involved with and we will remember this win for a long time." - Ricky Ponting
"I am worried now about where it goes from here. I'm worried it could be 5-0. We are going to Melbourne next and we are probably going to get another thrashing. I can't see where England are going to pick themselves up." - Geoff Boycott
"When you talk about pride there is a lot of that in our side and a lot of character as well. There are a lot of lads who want to prove that we can win a Test match in Australia ... so I don't think there will be a need to rally round the lads." - Andrew Flintoff
"The players are here to work so I was amazed to see so many families here so early in the tour. On previous Ashes tours the early stages are used to build a framework of teamwork, which fragments when the families come out." - Jonathan Agnew
"Sometimes you have to take a step back and say well played. It's frustrating that we are 3-0 down and we have played some good cricket. We have got two Test matches left to turn things around and give a better account of ourselves." - Andrew Strauss
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