Cortisone king Flintoff ready for Test

Not for the first time, Andrew Flintoff got the needle yesterday to ensure his presence in England's team for the fifth Test against South Africa. This had nothing to do with the eternally mild-mannered "Freddie" losing his temper, but with the injection of another dose of cortisone into his troublesome left ankle.

Not for the first time, Andrew Flintoff got the needle yesterday to ensure his presence in England's team for the fifth Test against South Africa. This had nothing to do with the eternally mild-mannered "Freddie" losing his temper, but with the injection of another dose of cortisone into his troublesome left ankle.

Flintoff's body is swimming with the stuff. His now healed long-term back injury required regular doses, including two injections last summer. Now there is speculation that he might go home before the one-day series to have an operation to repair the bone spur for good.

The official line was that the all-rounder had the injection following a scan and the injury will be reviewed after the Test. Flintoff himself said he did not know what was likely to happen.

In the absence of decisive information, bits of the puzzle seemed to fall into place and may well amount to more than conspiracy theory. Flintoff could, of course, play in the limited-overs matches as a batsman alone because of his singular talent, but England have called up Kevin Pietersen - another man who hits the ball hard and long, and can do so from the first ball.

If he was sent home there would be two benefits. Flintoff could have surgery and then plenty of time to convalesce before the Ashes series, and Pietersen could gain more international experience.

The immediate future of the fast bowler, Stephen Harmison, is also confused. He is likely to play in the Test, but his presence for the series of seven matches is far from certain. More bowling might tear his swollen calf. And with Flintoff gone, Harmison's tiredness may be exacerbated in a hectic two weeks. However, he will have been lifted yesterday by the praise of his coach, Duncan Fletcher.

Fletcher reminded people of Harmison's significant role while Matthew Hoggard was picking up the wickets in England's magnificent 77-run victory on Monday. "I thought the other bowlers fed off him because he gives the batsmen a hard time with the new ball and that creates pressure. If it wasn't for his overs the other bowlers might not have taken wickets."

England's problems are minor, however, compared to those of South Africa, who must win the fifth Test at Centurion, starting on Friday, to level the series. The Proteas dropped the fast bowler Dale Steyn and the batsman Hashim Amla from their squad yesterday. Charl Langeveldt could recover from his broken finger - with Andre Nel on stand-by - while the hapless Boeta Dippenaar may be dropped. There is the smell of South African panic in the air.

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