Angus Fraser: ECB will come under attack but the fault lies with Freddie
Saturday 25 April 2009
To lay the blame for Andrew Flintoff's knee injury solely at the feet of the England and Wales Cricket Board would be wrong. Responsibility for the predicament lies firmly in the hands of Flintoff.
Yes, Hugh Morris, the England managing director, had the authority to prevent Flintoff from playing in the Indian Premier League but it's naive to believe that he had a straightforward decision to make. There was and remains a lot at stake.
Remember that the England team only signed their central contracts once a window had been created for them to play in the IPL. With the Ashes being the focal point of a busy summer there will be many who believe that Morris should have flexed his muscles, called the players' bluff and turned down the requests to play in the IPL.
But it's not that simple. Saying no would have brought repercussions. If the ECB had not given in to the players' demands Flintoff and Kevin Pietersen may not have signed their central contracts, which would have left the ECB in an awful position. The decision would not have gone down well with other players, too, and it could have resulted in a demotivated squad.
We at Middlesex found ourselves in a similar position earlier this year. There are currently three of our players – Owais Shah, Tyron Henderson and Murali Kartik – playing in the IPL, and we decided that we would not stand in the way of their ambition as long as it did not have a negative effect on our club.
There will be some who say that an England player with such an attitude does not deserve to play for his country and should be dropped. Fair enough. But would Sky, BBC and all the other companies that have invested millions of pounds in the Ashes be happy to see an England team take the field against Australia in Cardiff on 8 July without Flintoff, Pietersen and a couple of other leading players? Of course not.
Andrew Strauss, the England captain, said that he wanted his players to take responsibility for their actions when he took charge in January. Strauss is a wise man, and he realises that mollycoddled players who never make a decision for themselves have less chance of succeeding at the highest level than an independent thinker.
The attitude of many of England's top players towards the IPL and the Ashes is in contrast to those they will be playing this summer. While most of England's stars were clamouring for an IPL contract Ricky Ponting (below), the Australian captain, Michael Clarke, the vice-captain, and Mitchell Johnson, their spearhead, were withdrawing to save themselves for the duel they cherish. Philip Hughes, Middlesex's overseas player, chose not to put his name in the auction because of his desire to succeed at Test level.
Sadly, Australia's cricketers do seem to have a better perception of what is right or wrong. Indeed, it was the players' opinions of Andrew Symonds's poor behaviour that saw him removed from the Australian side last winter.
To his credit, Stuart Broad is the only England player to decline the chance to take part in the IPL, and it was encouraging to see him take five wickets for Nottinghamshire this week. Ian Bell is in good touch with Warwickshire too, and Shah or Ravi Bopara, who is also in South Africa, can have no complaints if Bell plays ahead of them in next month's Test against the West Indies.
England fans will be pleased to know that Flintoff should be fit for the Ashes, but disappointed to realise that winning with a "baggygreen" cap on seems to mean more than with three lions and a crown. It is an attitude Strauss and Andy Flower need to change quickly if the side are to repeat the feats of 2005.
Angus Fraser is Director of Cricket at Middlesex
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