Quality of mercy in Andrew Flintoff's strain
May 12 2008 By Jack Bannister
Only a pure fluke has saved the England selectors from making asses of themselves when they met last week to pick the 12-man squad for the Lord's Test against New Zealand, start-ing in three days' time.
It is an open secret that coach Peter Moores and captain Michael Vaughan wanted Andrew Flintoff to play as one of a four-man attack, but everyone should be thankful, including the player, that he has suffered a left side strain which is claimed will keep him out of the first two Tests.
If they and the medics really believe that, they have been listening too much to the first cuckoos of spring because that sort of injury is usually at least a month before recovery allows the sufferer to start bowling again. The facts speak for themselves.
Flintoff last played in a Test for England in June 2006 because of an ongoing left ankle problem that neither he nor the medics were suffciently farsighted to recognise would threaten his future if he attempted an early comeback. Since August 2002 he has managed only 46 out of 72 Tests and he now wears a public health warning until the start of the South African series in July.
This column spelled out the dangers of picking him against New Zealand. following which similar views were expressed by former England captains Micharel Atherton and Sir Ian Botham, together with the new editor of Wisden, Scyld Berry.
The latter felt so strongly about the unacceptable risk it seems Vaughan and Moores were prepared to take that he believes that "having bowled only 95.1 competitive overs in the frst month of this summer - and all in short spells - it would have been culpably premature to pick him for two back-to-back Tests in a four man attack."
Berry goes further. "If he had played and broken down against New Zealand, the new regime of England selectors would have been honour-bound to fall upon their swords." Strong words but, as with politicians, resignations are none too plentiful among cricket ad-ministrators.
England's fitness among their bowlers since central contracts has been appalling, because non-bowling coaches such as Duncan Fletcher and Moores and captains like Vaughan simply do not appreciate what true bowling fitness means. The most unnatural of all sporting movements calls for every muscle used to be hardened by at least 200 overs, not under half that number in short spells.
At least Moores lets his bowlers play for their counties, but the over-emphasis on gym work has already laid Durham's Liam Plunkett low for several weeks with? - you've guessed it, the dreaded left side strain. It is an injury to the muscle area floating inside the rib cage, and even mod-ern science has not come up with a quick-fire remedy.
This former player suffered two in 20 years, and even the skills of the England and Warwickshire physiotherapist, Bernard Thomas was pow-erless to speed up Mother Nature. He tried with cortisone injections after marking the focal pain point with a ballpoint cross to help the needle hit the exact spot. He gave up after a week because my left side was marked with seven different crosses spead over at least a two-inch area.
That is why a claim that Flintoff will miss the first two Tests is fatuous. He will do well to start bowling again before the third Test which starts in 24 days' time on June 5. Then he must bowl and bowl long spells for Lancashire before he can be considered again, and that should rule him out until the Lord's Test against South Africa on July 10.
Whatever happens he should not be picked for the five one-dayers against New Zealand in the second half of June, because 50-over games are the last thing he needs and would prove nothing.
He would be on the field for three-and-a-half hours per frame and only bowl 10 overs. He needs long full days in which he bowls 25 overs to establish that bowling fitness the selectors seem to ignore whenever his name is mentioned.
England's other problems concern Vaughan, the fitness of Paul Collingwood and a final choice between James Anderson and Matthew Hoggard. The captain's lack of runs in New Zealand and for Yorkshire this season forced an admission that "I'm under pressure. I have got to deliver runs because there are a lot of people knocking on the door."
He will bat at three, thus giving him more time for mental adjust-ment after fielding and having his mind filled with bowling strategies. The downside is that Andrew Strauss partners Alastair Cook, making an all left-handed pair who are too similar in approach. The Collingwood shoulder injury complicates the Hoggard v Anderson choice - always assuming that Monty Panesar must play - because if the Durham man cannot bowl a dozen or so overs per day then the more consistent Hoggard should play in the four-man attack.
Anderson continues to flatter and, if he has a bad day, Vaughan will have to perm and overwork the other three front-line bowl-ers. Collingwood would offer insurance, but that shoulder injury must be aworry.
Finally to the biggest disgrace of the season - so far. Leicetershire have played in two games against Warwickshire and Northamptonshire in which 11 of the 22 players were from South Africa. Better re-name them Eastern and Western Provinces against Natal and Gauteng.
All three clubs should be ashamed of themselves for using the ECB rules so cynically to feather their own financial nests. Crazy isn't it? The size of the 18-county shareout of central funds depend upon a successful national team. BUT, the bigger the share the more money dis-appears into the pockets of players who cannot play for England.
The county structure is supposed to produce future England players and the defence of offending counties who shop anywhere they can is that this country's youngsters benefit from playing with and against the best cricketers from abroad. Not when 11 out of 22 players are ineligible for England, and many of those are ordinary cricketers anyway.
The increase in international cricket and the Indian Twenty20 IPL league prevent they very best from overseas playing county cricket. Worcestershire Head of Cricket Steve Rhodes is to be congratulated if he has been quoted ac-curately when he says he will have nothing to do with Kolpac cricketers. Mind you, Glamorgan said the same 12 months ago, but realised they were playing wirth one hand tied behind their backs and have since joined the rest of the county squirrels.
Selectors Geoff Miller, Ashley Giles and James Whitaker must tear their hair out at the decimation of cricketers eligible for England, although two of the three are connected with two of the offending clubs. At least that side in jury to Flintoff has saved their blushes. Now, for goodness sake, leave him alone for at least two months, whatever the coach and captain say.