The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Flintoff will have tough time returning to team

England want Andrew Flintoff to impose himself on their Ashes campaign, but the all-rounder will have to show he can go through the pain barrier more than once in Tasmania before he can be selected for the next Test.

An MRI scan Thursday showed that Flintoff had not suffered any damage after his operation for a double hernia in late August. According to England’s physiotherapist Kirk Russell, he was still feeling the discomfort, something puzzling for the surgeon involved.

The prognosis that Flintoff would be fit to bowl by the first Test has proved optimistic, though he could play in the second one at Adelaide in a week’s time, provided he performs against Australia A in Hobart over the weekend.

Blame for his slow recovery has, rightly or wrongly, been apportioned between those in charge of rehabilitation as well as Flintoff himself. Although no shirker on the cricket pitch, ‘Big Freddie’ apparently likes a pint and a pie, recreation that without an ECB minder to watch over him may have got out of hand. On the hard grounds and pitches Flintoff’s problem in Australia has been learning to ignore pain, which at net practice he appears to suffer most when twisting his torso bowling or batting.

The operation on his hernia has given him new pain, which understandably has made a big lad apprehensive. Trying to ignore it requires a leap of faith.

The England management’s decision to push Flintoff is in contrast to the one that allowed Alec Stewart to miss the game against the Australia A team. The wicketkeeper made the first Test ‘pair’ of his career in Brisbane, and it would be fair to say that since he trudged off he has hit more putts than pulls.

Normally someone who prepares fastidiously before a Test, Stewart says he feels in good touch and is happy to take the rest. Provided he remains first-choice ’keeper and free of injury, it is about the only game he can take off between now and the end of the World Cup in March. At 39, medicines can work only so many wonders.

Naturally, those who felt England should have netted rather than played golf Wednesday will be perplexed further, but the thinking is sound. Mind you, one of the reasons why England decided not to practice may have been revealed by a notice at the ground which read: “This practice facility is close to a residential area please refrain from using obscene language.”

With local advice suggesting England hone their sledging as much as the batting, a postponement was perhaps understandable.

Australian parochialism is so cyclopean that telescopes sell better here than binoculars, but their cricket team is so good now that most are desperate to see England get into the series and make a game of it.

Even Allan Border, the man who snubbed his old mates Ian Botham and David Gower in order not to be distracted from taking the Ashes off the Poms, is hoping for an upturn in the old foe’s form. “I know a lot of England players can play better than they did in the first Test,” said Border after the announcement of Australia’s Test side Thursday. “But they need to turn up all together for a full five days in order to beat this Australian side. It’s no good having one-off performances over a session or two.”

Border, who spent two years with Essex in the 1980s, is now a selector. Apart from justifying why Australia retained the one spinner for Adelaide in an unchanged squad — Shane Warne is so good he does not need support while the pitch becomes more uneven for seamers — he wants the Ashes to be competitive.

“I’d be disappointed if England don’t respond,” added Border. “We’ve been watching from afar for the past few years and seen that England have a group of blokes that fight. It didn’t work out well for them in Brisbane, and you have to pay tribute to a good Australian side, but I hope England show more fight in Adelaide.”

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