No surprises as talisman bows to the inevitable

What stood out more than anything else around here yesterday was the total lack of surprise. No one had seen Andrew Flintoff's retirement from Test cricket coming on the day in question but everyone knew that it was merely a matter of time.

As it happened, the timing, a day before a crucial Test match for the team whose talisman he once was, hardly seemed judicious. Flintoff had his thunder stolen in one of the morning tabloids. Dogging him to the last, he must have felt.

"It's not something I thought up overnight, it's something that has been in my mind for a while regarding this series," he said. "My body is telling me things and I've started to listen now. I can't just keep playing games here and there waiting to be fit, as much for my sanity as well as that of the family having to live with me going through two years of rehab out of the past four. It's not ideal, which is why I'm going to draw a line under it after this series and concentrate on one-day and Twenty20 cricket."

Flintoff still sounded desperate to play cricket of some sort, perhaps recognising that is what he has been put on Earth to do. He could easily have made a dash for the commentary box, where he would be the new David "Bumble" Lloyd in waiting, and the after-dinner speaking circuit where his spontaneous wit ignites audiences.

Naturally he was defiant. He expressed a desire to play not only in the 2011 World Cup but the one after that. Whether that (and huge pay cheques elsewhere from the likes of the Indian Premier League) is sufficient to sustain him only time will tell – and six years is an eternity in one-day cricket.

"I don't think anything can generate as much excitement as an Ashes series," he said. "I've enjoyed playing Test cricket but the Ashes is obviously on a different level to any other form or any other competition you play in. I enjoy the short form of the game and I want to be the best I possibly can at that. I want to focus all my attention and all my energy on being the best in the world at that form of the game."

It is some time since he was the best in the world and he knows it. But with plenty of time to allow his body to recover between competitions and appropriate diligence during them, there is no reason at his age that his ambition cannot be achieved.

"I think I produced my best in the three years after Michael Vaughan took over as captain in 2003," he said. "Since then I've missed two years out of four so my career has been curtailed by injury and I've not been able to have that rhythm of playing day in and day out. I've suffered for that."

But now for today and the rest of this high-profile Ashes series, hereinafter known as Freddie's Farewell. "The plan is to finish with a big bang," he said. "It's out there and it's a weight off my shoulders. It would be a perfect end to my Test career at The Oval." This might just work.

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