Andrew Flintoff's hopes of proving his fitness before England's opening Test of the summer ended in disappointment yesterday when the Lancashire all-rounder was forced to withdraw from the squad that will take on Zimbabwe at Lord's tomorrow. Flintoff, who a fortnight ago was hit on the shoulder by a beamer from his Lancashire team-mate Sajid Mahmood, has since had constant pains down his right arm. If the England chairman of selectors, David Graveney, is true to his word, it will mean a Test debut for Anthony McGrath.
How McGrath will fit into the England side as a replacement for Flintoff is something of a mystery. At 27 the Yorkshire captain has had, to date, a far from illustrious first-class career and cannot seriously be regarded as an all-rounder in county, let alone Test cricket. Since his debut for Yorkshire in 1995 he has scored only nine centuries in 120 first-class games. He has taken just 40 wickets.
The former England A player probably owes his selection to the eye of the England coach, Duncan Fletcher. Twice since he took over in 1999, Fletcher has plucked cricketers with ordinary records out of first-class cricket because he has seen something in them he liked. With Michael Vaughan and Marcus Trescothick such instincts proved inspired, but it is hard to see what McGrath will bring, and how he will add balance to England's side.
The true definition of an all-rounder is that of a player who can hold his place in the side as both a batsman and a bowler. McGrath's record suggests he is capable of neither and it means England will have to leave out a specialist bowler. Graveney spoke of the medium-pacer sharing the fourth seamer's role with Mark Butcher, but the chances of the Surrey opener being fit to bowl must be slim, even if an X-ray yesterday on his twisted right ankle was clear.
With the weather as it is and the pitch possessing a healthy covering of grass, England must be tempted to go into the match with four specialist seamers and leave their spinner, Ashley Giles, to carry the drinks. It is difficult to believe Nasser Hussain, the England captain, after winning the toss and deciding to bowl, will be overjoyed by the prospect of throwing the ball to this McGrath - rather than Glenn, the Australian version - after an hour's play.
It is hoped any shortcomings in the bowling department would be made up for with the willow as there is a feeling that England should and will go into the match with seven specialist batsmen and four bowlers. McGrath has a first-class batting average of 29 and his selection has bemused many young batsmen with better performances in county cricket.
As for Flintoff this setback continues his miserable run in Test cricket. After a winter trying to overcome groin problems in Australia this is the seventh consecutive Test he has missed. "I was looking forward to playing Test cricket again but this has put a hole through it," he said. "It is a freak injury and it is very frustrating but I hope to be fit for Durham [for the second Test that starts on 5 June]. It is difficult to put a time span on it at the moment and we hope to find out more about it in the next few days."
The sight of Matthew Hoggard having two lengthy bowls would have been a source of encouragement for England, whose fast-bowling resources have been drained. The Yorkshire seamer has been struggling with an abdominal strain, but looked free from pain as he went through a thorough work-out. Should Hoggard wake up this morning showing no ill-effects he can expect to lead one of the most inexperienced attacks England have ever put out. James Anderson and James Kirtley have yet to play a Test and Stephen Harmison is some way short of being described as a veteran.Reuse content