England's second worst fear has been confirmed. Kevin Pietersen underwent an operation on his Achilles tendon yesterday and, with an expected recovery time of six weeks, he will miss the rest of the Ashes series.
But speaking exclusively to The Independent yesterday, Andrew Flintoff underlined his own commitment and desire to be there until the end at The Oval despite the ongoing pain in his knee, suggesting he will play through injury even if it has an adverse effect on his long-term fitness after the curtain comes down on his Test career.
Nonetheless, Flintoff admitted that the news from Pietersen is a huge blow to England. "It is a big miss for us and it would be lying to say it isn't, but we're just going to have to get on with it," Flintoff said. "He's our best player who has performed well in the Ashes before and looked as though he was getting into some form. But he has been struggling for the past two weeks – it's the best thing for him to get his injury sorted and come back as quick as he can."
The decision to operate on Pietersen immediately, rather than look for another short-term fix, was taken after a leading Achilles specialist flew in from Sweden. While the announcement was expected after Pietersen spent much of the second Test in obvious discomfort and was severely restricted in movement, it now leaves England to concentrate on their worst fear.
Pietersen's departure is bad enough, but if Andrew Flintoff, who matched him hobble for hobble at Lord's, is also forced to withdraw from the third npower Test, which begins in Birmingham next week, both confidence and team structure will be badly affected after the unexpected and excellent victory at Lord's on Monday. If Pietersen must have known what was coming, it hardly eased the blow.
"As an England cricketer, the Ashes are the pinnacle of the game so I'm absolutely devastated," he said. "Up until now the Achilles injury has been manageable but it recently reached the point where we needed to look at other options in terms of treatment.
"I was pleased with the previous course of treatment as it allowed me to take part in this Ashes series but unfortunately the injury has recently deteriorated. To leave a winning dressing room at this time is heart- breaking but it wouldn't be fair to the team or myself to continue, given the severity of the injury."
The team knew as they left Lord's on Monday that their leading batsman faced grim news, but refused to acknowledge the probable outcome until it was medically confirmed. Flintoff, though, remains bullish about his own prospects despite still suffering severe twinges in his right knee. Speaking in Bolton, where he was visiting the Andrew Flintoff Cricket Academy and was given a hero's welcome by 90 schoolchildren, he said he will do whatever it takes to play in the next three Ashes matches before he retires from Test cricket.
"There are no guarantees for anybody," he said. "But I have three Test matches left, and I'd do anything to get through, maybe put myself through things I wouldn't do if I was looking more long-term. I will do whatever it takes to get out on the field. If I don't it has to be something extremely serious. The encouraging thing was that I bowled regularly over 90mph at Lord's. The knee was sore on Tuesday and it's still sore but I'll rest up in front of the telly for the next few days and then get ready for Edgbaston."
Pietersen's operation involved a small incision and trimming of the blood vessels and nerves around the inflamed tendon and, according to an England and Wales Cricket Board statement, appeared to be routine. But there is no question of rushing him back. Ian Bell will almost certainly come into the side for Pietersen and the selectors must ponder whether he goes straight in at No 3 for the struggling Ravi Bopara. They are likely to decide against it because they have a larger problem in deciding who to call up as cover with several candidates including Robert Key, Stephen Moore and Jonathan Trott, none of whom is wholly convincing.
England may not lose the Ashes without Pietersen but their relief at having a 1-0 lead will have multiplied.