Family challenge fires up Freddie

Andrew Flintoff has faced the fastest bowlers in the world and bowled at some of the best batsmen cricket has ever known.

updated: August 25, 2009 08:53 IST
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Andrew Flintoff has faced the fastest bowlers in the world and bowled at some of the best batsmen cricket has ever known.

But what the England all-rounder is most looking forward to now he has retired from Test cricket is the school run.

The 31-year-old, whose 79-Test career was blighted by injuries, bowed out of cricket's longest format as a member again of a winning Ashes side after England's 197-run win here at the Oval on Sunday saw them take the five-match series against Australia 2-1.

Flintoff, whose right knee injury finally hastened his departure from the five-day format, may not have starred with bat or ball in his farewell Test.

Yet he still took centre stage Sunday by running-out Ricky Ponting just when the Australia captain was in prime form and threatening a century.

Cue the carnival, with Flintoff engulfed by jubilant team-mates while thousands of fans celebrated in the stands.

What could be better?

Quite a lot, as it turns out.

"It is actually a nice time for me to finish," said Flintoff, who played with his young children Holly, Corey and Rocky on the Oval outfield during Sunday's celebrations, told reporters at England's hotel here Monday.

"The kids are coming to an age where they need their dad around and I am going to be there for that. Bittersweet as it is having to finish Test cricket through injury the one thing I am excited about is being at home.

"I am not going to get people shouting 'Super Fred' when I am doing the school run," the star of England's 2005 Ashes series said.

"However, for me that is far more important than peeling a few down in a Test match."

And Flintoff, who can now look forward to a life without the strains that lengthy tours can put on relationships, added there was another moment at the Oval that confirmed his time in Test cricket was up.

"In the dressing room... I was looking at the lads and seeing how happy they were and then I looked at my wife and kids and it was then I realised I'd made the right decision.

"As good as that was, they are my life - my kids, my family.

"I'm probably not going to get 25,000 people in my house chanting my name, but for me spending time with the family and having the opportunity to do that is far more important."

Some players are obsessed with their place in cricket history: Flintoff is not one of them.

"I'd sooner be regarded as a decent bloke. That's far more important to me. What you do on the cricket field is one thing, but being able to face yourself every day in the mirror and know you're not a bad egg is far more important."

At one level, Flintoff's fame is out of proportion to a Test record that boasts just five hundreds and three five wickets in an innings hauls and the man himself wouldn't disagree.

"I've never achieved greatness and I've never professed to either. You look at the greats of the game like (Ian) Botham and (Garry) Sobers, Imran Khan, (Sachin) Tendulkar, Ponting, they achieve greatness over a long period of time playing Test after Test after Test.

"During the bulk of my career I played through pain and injury so for me being out on the field is an achievement in some ways."

The popularity of Flintoff, who on Monday was hours away from a knee operation that could determine his one-day future, was enhanced by the feeling amongst fans that 'Fred' was 'one of us'.

"One of the things the crowd identify with is that if I wasn't playing I would be sat there next to them," said Flintoff.

"I play cricket for England, but I'm an England fan as well so I think I can identify with the crowd and they can identify with me.

"It's a game that needs to keep that."

And it doesn't hurt if the players can relate to one another.

The way Flintoff consoled Australian rival Brett Lee after England's nailbiting win in the 2005 Ashes Test at Edgbaston suggested it was still possible to win with grace.

That remained the case on Sunday when Flintoff shook hands with century-maker Michael Hussey after the Australian was last man out at the Oval.

It was an incident at the Oval in 2004, after England lost to West Indies in the Champions Trophy final, that informed Flintoff's approach.

"We lost and they were running around celebrating and we were stood there with no one to shake hands with. I think when you play in a series like that you have to respect the opposition."

Someone whom Flintoff holds in the highest regard is India batting great Tendulkar. "When you bowl against him, you don't just want to get him out, you want to impress him.

"I want him to walk off thinking 'that Flintoff is all right." He probably did 'Fred', he probably did.