On the hottest, sunniest day of the Ashes series so far, a dark cloud loomed over England. With the second Test at stake, their captain and talisman, Andrew Flintoff, appeared to suffer a recurrence of his old ankle injury.
He bowled only four overs on the fourth day, which was deeply disturbing given that the tourists had to bowl another 67 before dismissing Australia and were desperate to improve their chances of drawing level at 1-1. The team management conceded that Flintoff had felt discomfort in his troublesome left ankle but immediately played it down.
With the series delicately poised and with England having a genuine opportunity of pursuing victory at the start of the day, it was at the very least unwelcome. At the worst, it could have a disastrous effect on a campaign which has just started to gain impetus.
Duncan Fletcher, England's coach, said: "He felt discomfort and we wanted to make sure everything was all right. He just felt more comfortable with the others bowling.
"To a degree it's the same discomfort that Ashley Giles felt bowling in the nets in India after being out for so long. Andrew's done quite a lot of bowling in back-to-back Tests and the medical team say the best thing is to see how it goes. There are no worries at the moment and we're not even going to send him for a scan."
Since a scan is the first port of call for an injured sportsman seeking treatment, and since Flintoff stayed on the field as Australia closed the gap on the tourists' first innings total of 551 for 6 declared, this was not entirely misleading. As a young professional, Flintoff's back was the cause of serious complaint and he had multiple injections.
The left ankle has been frequently troublesome recently. Early in 2005 he needed surgery but recovered to play a key part in the Ashes series. But his wholehearted method of bowling - his left foot lands hard at the crease and is at a slight angle - led to further trouble in the summer. He missed the whole series against Pakistan for further surgery to remove a bone spur. Only his tremendous powers of recovery and an intensive fitness regime allowed him to return to lead England on this tour.
All is not lost but Flintoff's inaction, whether enforced or voluntary, still represented a bombshell. England must again contest back-to-back Tests in Melbourne and Sydney at Christmas and New Year.
Australia were there to be beaten and instead of Flintoff sharing the burden of the attack, it was left to Matthew Hoggard to shoulder it for the second day in succession.
With Giles managing to play a holding role at one end and back to his favourite over-the-wicket delivery style, Hoggard finished with match figures of 7 for 109. Fletcher paid due tribute to Hoggard's titanic effort on a benign pitch. "His bowling showed the character of the man and he is prepared to run through brick walls for you." The suspicion is that Flintoff may have to do the same.
* The Australia paceman Brett Lee has been fined 25 per cent of his match fee for excessive appealing during the second Test against England in Adelaide. Lee was found to have breached the International Cricket Council's code of conduct which relates to celebrating a dismissal before the decision has been given. The incident took place during the fourth over of the second day's play on Saturday, when Lee thought Kevin Pietersen had been caught behind.Reuse content