Whisper it, although not if you happen to find yourself in Preston today, but the injury to Andrew Flintoff is not necessarily bad news for England.
That is no longer the kind of heretical statement that would, once upon a time, have brought upon the perpetrator the Inquisition. There is now a general realisation that the talismanic all-rounder of four years ago is not as central to England’s success as before.
Like a second-hand car with plenty of miles on the clock, Flintoff’s body has become unreliable. You can give it as many MOTs as you like – and an MOT for Flintoff is another bout of rehabilitation with his physiotherapist and great friend, Dave Roberts – but it is a truism that when you set off on a long journey, you are just not quite sure whether you will reach the destination.
So let us move on from the past and from the notion that Flintoff is a talisman for the England team – as the bare statistics suggest we must. Since 2005, England have played 48 Tests, winning 15, losing 16 and drawing 17. Flintoff has missed 25 of those because of injury. Without him, England have won 12 matches; in the 23 games that he has played, England have won three. Flintoff is a fine cricketer, who will and should play if fit, but his stamp is no longer – if it ever has been – a guarantee of success.
Had he continued to play through this Ashes series, more commentators would likely have joined this chorus; as it stands, Flintoff has announced his decision to quit Test cricket, and ensured that the next four Tests will be an extended wake in memory of his once-greatness.
“My body has told me it’s time to stop,” Flintoff told Press Association Sport. “I’ve been through four ankle operations, I had knee surgery just a couple of months ago and had three jabs in my knee on Monday just to get me right for this Test, so I took that as my body telling me that I can’t cope with the rigours of Test cricket.
“Since 2005 I’ve done two years when I’ve done nothing but rehab from one injury or another. Two of the last four years I’ve spent just in rehabilitation and I just can’t keep doing it for myself, my own sanity, my family and also for the team – because they need to move on as well. It’s been something I’ve been thinking about for a while and I think this last problem I’ve had with my knee has confirmed to me that the time is now right.”
An aide memoire of what Freddie could do, when he was fit enough to do it: