Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 27 December 2014

Strauss hails Flintoff's key Ashes moment

England's Ashes-winning captain Andrew Strauss thanked Andrew Flintoff for one final "moment of inspiration" to ensure the urn returned home tonight.

It was Flintoff, largely ineffective with his two main all-round skills in his last Test appearance, who instead made a telling impact in the field - running out Ricky Ponting with a direct hit, just when it seemed the Australia captain was mounting a dangerous fightback.

The ultimate outcome was a 197-run victory at the Oval which sealed a 2-1 npower series success as England regained the Ashes.

But even in pursuit of a world record 546, Australia's hopes had somehow become less forlorn as Ponting and Michael Hussey (121) took their third-wicket stand to 127 midway through the fourth afternoon.

"It was that stage in the game. The ball was old, didn't look like it was doing much for anyone; Ponting and Hussey were playing exceptionally well - and we needed a moment of inspiration," Strauss recalled.

"We weren't quite sure where it was going to come from. But you can't keep 'Fred' out of the game, and that was an unbelievable bit of fielding which just set us in motion again.

"That's the value of being a great all-rounder in so many different ways, with the bat and ball, great catch - or in this instance, a fantastic run-out."

England must get by without Flintoff from now on as they plan to build on their Ashes success. But for the man himself, being an integral part of today's win was the reward for much endeavour and the culmination of an 11-year Test career - previously defined by England's 2005 Ashes victory, now with another all-time high too.

"All the injuries and operations - it's for moments like this. What a way to go," Flintoff told Sky Sports as he reflected on his glorious finale before injury-enforced retirement.

England's victory came on the back of five first-innings wickets from Flintoff's all-round heir apparent Stuart Broad, as well as a debut hundred from Jonathan Trott.

Along with Strauss' man-of-the-series haul of 474, there have been many other reasons to cheer for England this summer.

But Flintoff may not celebrate quite so hard this time as he famously did four years ago - especially since he is booked in for a knee operation on Tuesday. "I've not had quite as much to drink yet," he joked.

"It's an amazing feeling. I'm going to celebrate, probably not in the same style as 2005. I'll take the missus out for dinner and then spend the day with my family tomorrow.

"It's a really special moment - a special day in the Flintoff household and I'm sure a special day in a lot of people's households."

Not least of them, of course, will be Strauss'.

"We went through so many emotions today - frustration, worry, despair at times when it didn't look like we were going to take a wicket," the England captain admitted.

"But to finish it off like we did, it's an amazing day."

England and Australia have been hugely inconsistent in a fluctuating series, never more so than when the hosts lost the fourth Test by an innings and 80 runs.

"This seemed a long way off after Headingley - and the guys had to dig very, very deep," added Strauss.

"They've come out fighting, and it's a special moment for all of us."

For Strauss himself, rank and file when England beat Australia under Michael Vaughan four years ago, today's achievement feels even sweeter.

He said: "For me personally, I suppose it is - because I've captained the side."

Opposite number Ponting, meanwhile, is developing a strong dislike for the Oval - having twice had to accept the role of losing captain there.

He is the first Australian since Billy Murdoch in the 1890s to find out what that is like.

Invited to compare which of his two unpleasant experiences has felt the worst, he said: "I'm equally disappointed.

"It's a long time ago. I don't remember exactly how I felt that night. But I know now, it's hard to swallow.

"I don't think you can get any more disappointed that I am right now. "For me, the leader, the captain, the most experienced player, it's difficult to accept.

"But we couldn't have done anything else - we have given ourselves the best opportunity.

"It's just a couple of really bad sessions during the course of five Tests which have cost us the series."

Ponting refused to blame a wicket he nonetheless described as "poor" for Australia's defeat - because both teams had to bat on it twice.

Asked how come his team have lost when many of their key statistics - number of individual hundreds and wickets - are so superior, Ponting could only point to inconsistency.

"When both teams played well they were very good; when they played badly they were very, very bad," he said.

"When we've lost a session, it was like the one the other day; we lose eight wickets and blow ourselves out of the water - and all the pressure is back on us."

If there was a consolation for Ponting, it was that after a summer of unseemly booing the home crowd finally showed their appreciation - in what could turn out to be his final Test against England in this country.

"'Freddie' said when I went out he thought I'd hired a PR company for this week to get a few supporters on my side," he said.

"It was nice to get an ovation - I might have won a few over."

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