Truth be told, this was on the horizon for a while. His fitness and form since 2005 has been a travesty. Time and again the cycle of injury, gloom, rehab and hope gripped the England side's perennial search for 'balance'.
It was Lawrence Booth, in his insightful weekly column, who first questioned the point of it all. Now journalists and punters alike readily cite the fact that England win more games without 'Fred' than with him. Statistics, though, are full of quirks. Flintoff struggled through the top sides - South Africa, India, Australia - but was left rehabilitating as others gorged on West Indies and New Zealand.
This however, cannot mask the fact that Flintoff only ever flirted with greatness. For three years under Michael Vaughan, culminating in that series he was possibly the most valuable cricketer on the planet. Since, he has failed to be the force on the field that he is off it.
While in an England shirt, Flintoff couldn't prevent forcing his body beyond endurance. He carried not only his colossal frame, but a toothless attack. Yet off the field, the riches from 2005 and frustrations of injury led to an increasingly public presence away from cricket. Perhaps the fire that drove him to the top was fading as he sought fortune and entertainment elsewhere.
The tragedy is that this series had appeared to light the embers once more. He was better prepared than any since 2005, was batting well and thundered in bowling faster than ever. Alas, his body duly resisted.
He deserves a vintage performance to close his Test career and could yet inject himself to fitness for the remainder of the series. Sadly public figures, sportsmen especially, rarely get the exit they desire. Whatever happens, Test cricket, shorn of Flintoff's brutal brilliance, will be a poorer sport.