England's great escape was undermined yesterday by a familiar predicament. Andrew Flintoff may be forced to miss the second Ashes Test at Lord's because of injury. If his probable absence has become a regular refrain, it still threatens seriously to disturb the team's preparations before the match, which starts on Thursday, and their strategy during it.
The doubts surrounding Flintoff, who has swelling and soreness in the knee on which he had surgery only six weeks ago, made it straightforward for the selectors to include Stephen Harmison in a squad of 14. But it allowed no more time to bask in the delight of leaving Cardiff with a draw in the opening match of the series.
For most of the final day Australia were banker winners, having dominated most of the contest. England's performance with both bat and ball was unacceptably limp and only in the game's last knockings, with the last pair at the crease, did they exhibit enough fortitude to resist Australia.
They also refuted, somewhat too sanctimoniously, the allegation they had been guilty of gamesmanship by sending on the 12th man and the physiotherapist to use up time in the last hour. Geoff Miller, the national selector, said: "We had to make sure our batsmen knew what the overs situation was. It was very convoluted, very difficult and there were discrepancies on the sidelines, never mind in the middle."
Had Paul Collingwood demonstrated the defective methods and frail temperaments of his colleagues, the non-time wasting would not have been possible. The match would have been over soon after lunch and the Ashes would be on their way again. But Collingwood batted for almost six hours in scoring 74 precious runs.
The revelation of Flintoff's injury came as news to the dressing room as well as the public, although it can hardly have been a surprise to either party. He went for a scan on the knee yesterday and will be monitored in the next two days. Miller said Flintoff had twisted his knee while fielding in Cardiff.
"Harmison is in as cover for Flintoff... although he could have played alongside Freddie in any event," said Miller. "In the end we will have to wait and see what the conditions are like and what kind of format we want the side to have, whether we have an extra batter, or one spinner or no spinners. Harmison is bowling with rhythm – hopefully he can bowl with that rhythm in a Test match."
But with Big Steve selection in the past two seasons has always been made in hope rather than expectation. Miller was rightly but uncharacteristically scathing of England's poor display.
Having paid tribute to the tail-end heroics of James Anderson and Monty Panesar, he said: "We are well aware, however, that we did not perform well in Cardiff over the five days and will need to improve in all areas of our game if we are to overcome what is a strong Australian side. I just think we underperformed generally. They are far better players than they showed us in that match. Our batters have got to put up a better showing."
Collingwood, the hero of the day, remained unexcited, the quality which enabled him to bat for six long hours. "I do love these kind of situations and to be able to get out in the middle and do your bit to help, so I can take a bit of pride in what I did, but at the moment it means nothing."
Casualty list: Flintoff's injury record
Breaks foot in South Africa. Suffers back injury, breaks nose in Pakistan
Undergoes hernia operation. Leaves Ashes tour early with groin injury
Shoulder injury rules him out of Tests with Zimbabwe and Bangladesh
Flies home from South Africa for
surgery on left ankle
Further surgery on left ankle
Out of Windies Tests with ankle trouble
Misses Test series against New Zealand after suffering side strain
Hip injury ends tour of West Indies. Injures right knee playing in the IPL in South Africa
*Andrew Flintoff has missed 25 of 48 Test matches since England reclaimed the Ashes in September 2005. Of the 23 Tests in which the all-rounder has featured, England have won just three.
England since Sept 2005: ......... 48......... 15
With Flintoff in team:......... 23......... 3
Without Flintoff:......... 25......... 12