Flintoff fitness doubts delay England tour selection

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The Independent Online

It may be six weeks before England's cricketers set off on a 10-week tour of the West Indies, but the decision to postpone the announcement of their squad until noon today remains baffling. David Graveney, the chairman of selectors, has blamed the fitness of key players and a couple of unresolved selectorial issues as the reason for the delay, but this move is neither positive nor decisive.

It is also difficult to work out what could have changed during the past 24 hours. The selectors have had plenty of time to find out whether the members of their proposed squad are fit, and no player has had the chance to strengthen his case for selection.

This is not the first time that these players have had to wait for news on what they will be doing this spring. Michael Vaughan's side for the Caribbean was expected to be revealed during England's tour of Sri Lanka before Christmas. However, this plan was shelved so that those playing in the Test series were not distracted.

Matters are not helped by the fact that England's four selectors are currently spread over three continents. I have nothing against non-Englishmen playing an important role in the running of our cricket, but surely decisions as important as this should have been sorted out before each disappeared to his respective home.

The appointment of a chief medical officer by the England and Wales Cricket Board was a positive move, but it was hoped that Dr Peter Gregory would help clarify issues surrounding the fitness of the players. But this process, and the fact that Dr Gregory appears to have the final say on whether a player is declared fit or not, now seems to take longer than ever.

The risk of selecting a squad containing Stephen Harmison, Richard Johnson and Simon Jones, three players with dodgy fitness records, is one reason for their indecision. But it is the fitness of Andrew Flintoff, and his ability to bowl the overs England require of him, which has become a major concern for the selectors.

Duncan Fletcher, the England coach, has often said the workload which is placed on the Lancashire all-rounder needs to be monitored, but this has not prevented Vaughan from throwing the ball to the fast bowler each time his side have been in trouble. This is unlikely to change in the Caribbean, where the pitches should suit his style.

Although Flintoff is only 80 per cent fit, he is certain to go on the tour. Doubts about his durability, however, may encourage England to select an extra fast bowler.