Flintoff fearful over his future

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Andrew Flintoff's long-term back injury is reaching crisis point. The 22-year-old all-rounder has been told that if the latest in a long line of injections does not work he will either need a major operation or he will never bowl again.

Andrew Flintoff's long-term back injury is reaching crisis point. The 22-year-old all-rounder has been told that if the latest in a long line of injections does not work he will either need a major operation or he will never bowl again.

Flintoff had the injection in his lower back on Thursday, and said afterwards: "The specialist said that if it works then he will know exactly how to treat the condition, but if it doesn't I basically have two choices - don't bowl or have pins put in my back."

Flintoff has suffered back problems since the age of 14, but the exact cause has never been diagnosed. Ten injections in the past 18 months have been short-term remedies to get him on to the field of play, but he is reluctant to continue that policy. "I didn't really want this one," he said. "Because all they do is take the pain away for a month or two and then it flares up and is even worse. What I need is to have the problem solved, not masked. This is the first diagnostic injection I have had. The problem is if I have another injection and get picked for the tour to Pakistan I will probably have to come home halfway through because of my back and then I'll get slagged off by everyone again. But I'm still desperate to play."

Flintoff countered allegation yesterday that he indulged in a drinking spree in Manchester in the early hours of Friday morning. "I've lost nearly a stone in the past month by training hard. I went out with a friend who I haven't seen for about nine months. We had dinner and then a couple of drinks. I was working with the physio early next morning. Lancashire have told me there is nothing wrong with what I did and that is the end of matter."

Dean Conway, England's physiotherapist, said it would definitely be the final cortisone injection. "He has had great relief from pain with this. The signs are that it isn't a stress fracture and that we will be able to treat this with radio block-therapy."

The irony is that this has happened in the first year of central contracts, which were supposed to allow England's management to protect players, especially young bowlers, from injury. Whether the injections are consistent with that aim is open to question. As is the long-term career of one of the game's brightest talents.

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