LONDON // If yesterday's decision by Andrew Flintoff to retire from Test cricket caused any surprise, surely it was only because of the timing of the announcement. England's talisman has suffered a catalogue of injuries - including four ankle operations and one on a torn meniscus in a knee just two months ago - that would have curtailed the careers of lesser men long before now. But in terms of preparation for the second Ashes Test, which begins at Lord's today, finding out the day before the game that this would be Flintoff's last series in the longer form of the game was hardly ideal for Andrew Strauss and his men. Flintoff's name has become synonymous with the words "rehab" and "treatment table" almost from the day that he burst on to the international scene as a raw 20-year-old in 1998. The one period of his career where he was fit for any length of time saw him produce miracle after miracle with bat and ball, being named Man of the Series against South Africa in 2003, West Indies a year later, and in the stunning Ashes series of 2005 which saw England reclaim the urn for the first time since 1987.
Yet he has spent two of the last four years recovering from his various ailments, and Flintoff, 31, acknowledged the moment he realised his time as a Test cricketer was at an end was when he received three cortisone injections to the knee on Monday, the day after England had salvaged a draw at Cardiff in the first Test. "This has been on my mind for a while, and after getting those cortisone on Monday it was clearly the time to announce it," said Flintoff, who has claimed 212 wickets and scored 3,658 runs in his 75 Test appearances to date. "I've had four ankle operations and knee surgery; my body is telling me things and it's time to listen. I can't keep playing games here and there waiting to be fit, both for my own sanity and for my family having to live with me. "To go through two years of rehab in the last four hasn't been ideal, and I'll draw a line under Test cricket after this series."
Not that Flintoff is disappearing entirely from view. Speaking at a hastily-arranged press conference at Lord's, he scoffed at the suggestion that a position in a television commentary box is his for the taking. Indeed, he made it clear that, in one-day and Twenty20 cricket at least, he intends to lead his country from the front up to and including the 2015 World Cup. He added: "We have a one- day World Cup coming up in 2011 and I'd like to play in another one after that - I'm going to focus all my attentions on becoming the best player in the world in those forms of the game.
"While there's sadness in the fact that I've realised where I am with regard to my body and Test cricket, I've still got a huge amount of enthusiasm for both one-day and Twenty20 cricket." In the obituaries of Flintoff's Test career, the series against Australia four years ago stands out as Michael Vaughan's Gladiator-in-Chief took 24 wickets and scored 402 runs in the five-match series.
The all-rounder acknowledged this was his golden age, but made it clear he sees no better way to sign off than by beating Ricky Ponting's tourists again this summer. "Being part of an Ashes-winning team and playing a part in that was pretty special," he said. "Having done that before it would be nice to finish on a high and it would be the perfect way to end my career with another Test series victory over them this time around." firstname.lastname@example.org