Cricket Expert & Columnist
The end of the show
Andrew Flintoff was a scene-stealer on the pitch, says Mike Atherton, but he'll be relieved to retire.
Last Updated: 03/11/10 5:03pm
Any sadness Andrew Flintoff feels on his retirement from cricket is likely to be diluted by a sense of relief.
The decision when to call time on his career has hung over him for some time; now he has made it he can move on and enjoy his life as best he sees fit.
In the end his body could take no more. His attempts to overcome a long-standing knee injury proved he felt he still had plenty more to offer but I've always felt he should have bowed out from all forms of the game rather than just Test cricket after the 2009 Ashes.
I wrote as much at the time - and was criticised by a few for doing so - but the challenge looked too great, the hope too ambitious even for one of England's greatest scene-stealers.
Flintoff will be remembered as England's best bowler since Sir Ian Botham but, of course, it took time for him to grow to that stature.
I remember him turning up at Old Trafford as a teenager - he was tall and thin with nothing on him. He played a few games as a young kid but couldn't bowl because his back was troublesome; the potential wasn't obvious.
It was only when he started to develop and improve his fitness that I started to realise just how good he might be.
The selectors saw it too and after spells captaining the England Under 19s in 1996 and 1997 he made his Test debut against South Africa in the fourth Test at Trent Bridge in 1998.
He removed Jacques Kallis in the first innings but otherwise didn't shine immediately; like many people before him and since, it took a while for him to come to terms with international cricket.
Indeed, I remember he bagged a pair in the next Test, at Headingley, falling to that great pairing of Allan Donald and Shaun Pollock and he quickly realised that he needed to be fitter and stronger if he was to succeed at the highest level.
Even back then he thought of himself as a batting all-rounder whereas to my mind he was a better bowler.
Of all the people that have been tagged 'the next Botham' he carried the tag the best, hitting the ball hard, catching brilliantly at slip and running up to the crease aggressively and fast.
It all came together for him at the right time in the 2005 Ashes - one of the great Test series and one that will always be linked with his name.
He shook England up in the pivotal Test at Edgbaston by scoring quick, aggressive runs and removing Justin Langer and Ricky Ponting in quick succession in Australia's second innings to help set up as tense a Test finish as you could wish to see.
Flintoff also won one of the key tactical battles of the series, his duel with Adam Gilchrist - a man who too often in the past had rescued Australia just when England appeared to be in the ascendancy.
This time Flintoff had the wood on him from around the wicket and Gilchrist, who finished with a Test career average of 47, barely averaged above 20 in the series.
It is for feats such as this that Flintoff will be remembered rather than his captaincy, although he did lead England with some distinction in India in 2006.
He got the job rather by default, though, after Michael Vaughan got injured and Marcus Trescothick returned home and it all went horribly wrong in the 2006/07 Ashes series, which England lost 5-0.
He wasn't a natural captain and preferred to be one of the lads; the pedalo incident at the 2007 World Cup and his drinking exploits at Trafalgar Square both neatly fit the myth of Flintoff and neither should detract from his career as a whole.
History will regard him as one of the finest all-rounders, a player who raised his game against Australia in 2005 and again in 2009 when he could still change a game even though his influence had dwindled. His match-winning spell at Lord's and his direct hit to run out Ponting at the Oval were both inspirational.
But if England did worry about life after Flintoff, they needn't have; Andrew Strauss and Andy Flower took a decision early on in their tenure that he was finished as an international player and the side has moved on pretty seamlessly without him.
The wheel continues to turn and, while we may not see Flintoff's like again for some time, the point where England relied on him has long since passed.