July 15 was a day that all what makes English Cricket had been expecting for a while, the day that Andrew Flintoff would announce that he was quitting Test cricket. It is a decision that has been on Flintoff's mind for some time and for all who care about English cricket. Put simply in his own words, his body has told him its time to stop.
"My body has told me it's time to stop," he 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."
His body and the run of injuries he's had means that this definitely is the right decision. Flintoff will still be around the ODI and Twenty20 scene for England, and this decision means that more than likely he'll play an integral part in both of those teams.
Short little over spells are all Flintoff can bowl at the moment and at Test level, perhaps Flintoff also feels that that’s not good enough for England. England need their best bowlers to bowl those 7-8 overs on the trot without the shadows of an injury on the rise.
Ashes series have and always will be a test of a players character, commitment, and effort to the cause. They have often been times when the selectors (as well as fans and the media) can judge whether a player can really handle the pressure and whether or not they are good enough.
Flintoff, in the 11 Ashes tests he has played, has ticked all the boxes and has given his all for England. Even when he was captain for the "whitewash" series, he kept going, and even when it was apparent the team would lose, 5-0, he kept spirits up. The CB series win afterward was perhaps due to his inspiration and the fact guys like Paul Collingwood, James Anderson, and the chirpy Paul Nixon also kept going.
Ashes series are also a crossroads in players career. They know that they play an Ashes series at home every four years, along with the tours that come along every 18-24 months. With that in mind, Flintoff's decision has given the selectors time to prepare in advance of who can come into the team to replace him in the lineup. It's hard to think of an all-rounder at the moment who can immediately come into the team, so perhaps England will go back for another batsman.
In terms of the all-rounder department, perhaps England might be looking more closely at Luke Wright and even Dimitri Mascarenhas. The later may be a sensible option and has performed OK in ODI and T20's for England.
Aside from being known as a slugger, he can bat properly and is a good choice with the ball. I'm not suggesting that he's a Freddie replacement, but as an experienced cricketer he may be an option. Adil Rashid, if he continues to improve his batting, could be England's answer to "Daniel Vettori," but that is at least two years away.
So what are the memories that stand out for Flintoff? The 2005 Ashes series, his great 2004 season, his first test 100 against New Zealand (where Graham Thorpe scored a brilliant double century in the same innings) all come to mind.
The memory that sticks out for me is his two brilliant knocks during the home tests against South Africa in 2003. At Lords, he hit a brilliant 142 in a losing cause, taking a particular liking to Paul Adams as England at least gave their fans something to cheer for after Graeme Smith got a big double century to take the game away from the Brits.
At the final test match at the Oval, which happened to be Alec Stewart's last test match, he hit a rocketing 95 that helped England square the series. His knock came in no time and he shared a partnership with Steve Harmison of 99 in which the Durham man only got three runs. It changed the momentum of a game that looked certain to be a draw and gave everyone confidence that England could win the test.
Hopefully Freddie can add one or two more memorable match performances in the remainder of this Ashes Series. He deserves to go out on a high and if he can ruffle a few of the Australian batsmen and bowlers on his way out, he deserves it.
One thing that we don’t want is Freddie limping out causing more damage to himself. The World Cup is in 2011 and I am sure he's got one eye on making that his international swan song.