England hit by injury to Flintoff

As breath was drawn again yesterday after England's epic victory in the fourth Test the heavy physical cost became starkly clear. The most disturbing, but by no means solitary part of this bodily reckoning was that Andrew Flintoff, the team's precious all-rounder, has had a recurrence of the bone spur damage in his left ankle which dogged him last summer.

As breath was drawn again yesterday after England's epic victory in the fourth Test the heavy physical cost became starkly clear. The most disturbing, but by no means solitary part of this bodily reckoning was that Andrew Flintoff, the team's precious all-rounder, has had a recurrence of the bone spur damage in his left ankle which dogged him last summer.

He was already suffering from a slight tear in his side but the new, or rather old, injury has potentially calamitous consequences for the team. Flintoff will have a scan today, probably followed by a cortisone injection, which did the trick last July.

It is, however, a chronic condition, which requires surgery to provide a lasting remedy. The question is whether he has an operation soon or at some unspecified date in the future, and coming up with the right answer is crucial because Flintoff's participation this summer is essential if England are to have any realistic hope of regaining the Ashes.

The revelation that Flintoff had been carrying the injury for two weeks was accompanied by a barely less disquieting bulletin, as far as the immediate future is concerned, on the calf injury sustained by the side's fast bowler Stephen Harmison. It seems that Harmison will definitely play in the final Test, beginning at Centurion on Friday, but without any guarantee that his calf will not worsen.

Flintoff's ankle, which has the distinct possibility of entering the national consciousness, was first diagnosed last summer and meant he could not bowl during the one-day triangular tournament, which had dire consequences for England who failed to qualify for the final. In a candid assessment of the options yesterday, England's physiotherapist, Kirk Russell, did not attempt to conceal the concern.

"We saw a specialist last week when there was an option of an injection but Freddie chose not to," Russell said. "He was able to get through this match but he feels it a little more now so we're going to see the specialist again. Again it's up to him but I imagine he probably will have an injection because it was very successful last summer.

"It's the way to treat this condition because you're injecting into the back of the joint not the Achilles. Freddie is reluctant because he had a lot of injections in his back a few years ago. This condition is two bones banging together at the back of the foot, a posterior impingement.

"It takes between three and four months to recover from surgery and becomes a viable option if you need more and more injections. We'll do the scans, decide on the injection and then see how he goes through the Test."

England may be pinning their hopes on the combination of an injection and three months rest for Flintoff after this tour. He will probably stay on for the one-day series even if he does not bowl. The nightmare scenario is that he breaks down during the Ashes series and cannot have another injection.

Harmison, who showed distinct signs of returning to his most hostile form, despite going wicketless in the fourth Test, which England thrillingly won by 77 runs, had a scan yesterday which revealed no muscle tear. Ideally, he needs two weeks for the swelling to clear up. "There is a risk of maybe tearing it but he bowled 15 overs on the last day of the match which is as good a litmus test as you could get," Russell said.

The dispatches on the weary but delirious squad's other injuries were much brighter. Simon Jones (groin and back), Ashley Giles (dislocated thumb), Geraint Jones (bruised thumb) and James Anderson (gashed wrist) should all be shipshape by Friday.

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