England's Ashes campaign was unsettled before it started yesterday when Andrew Flintoff was reprimanded for a misdemeanour during the weekend visit to First World War sites. Flintoff failed to make the journey to the trenches near Ypres on Saturday morning after missing the team bus. Along with the other players he had attended a private team dinner the night before.
The weekend gathering in Flanders was organised, in the words of the team director Andy Flower, as "part of ongoing efforts designed to broaden horizons and learn more about the role of leadership and team ethics". Flintoff attended a team strategy meeting later in the morning but his absence from the visit to the field where the Battle of Passchendaele was fought was at least embarrassing.
"We can confirm that Andrew did miss the team bus and the matter has been dealt with internally," said an England team spokesman. "We feel that is the appropriate response."
There is no question of Flintoff having misbehaved or of any member of the public complaining about him but his absence raised eyebrows, not least among his colleagues. Flintoff has been no stranger to trouble, often created by his fondness for a pint.
He lost the vice-captaincy of the one-day team after his infamous small hours attempt to set sail on a pedalo in St Lucia during the 2007 World Cup. During the Ashes tour which preceded it he turned up for practice before a one-day match still apparently the worse for wear from the previous evening.
The latest peccadillo will have irritated his colleagues and was disrespectful to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission which acted as host. When Andrew Strauss assumed the captaincy in January he talked persuasively of giving the players the responsibility to prepare for matches in their own personal fashions.
It will not be lost on the England and Wales Cricket Board that Australia sent home their all-rounder Andrew Symonds from the recent World Twenty20 after he breached team drinking guidelines.
Flintoff, who had visited the Tyne Cot cemetery last Friday afternoon, played his part yesterday in the squad's media session ahead of England's three-day match with Warwickshire, starting tomorrow. He has just overcome the latest in a litany of injuries, this one to a knee, and seemed fresh as a daisy.
"This match is the final piece of the preparation for the team and for me as well," said the man who played a huge part, with bat and especially ball, in the 2005 series but could do nothing to prevent an Australian whitewash just 18 months later.
"It's now eight weeks since the knee operation and I've been working hard with Rooster [faithful personal physio Dave Roberts] and hopefully all that's behind me now and I can just keep maintaining my fitness. I've played two championship games and three Twenty20s for Lancashire and I'm pleased with where I'm at. But this last game is vitally important, obviously for form but also to bowl a few more overs and hopefully to get some runs."
As has generally been the case after every injury, Flintoff quickly slipped back into his bowling boots. But, just as predictably, runs refused to fly off his bat – until he belted 93 off 41 balls during a Twenty20 thrash against Derbyshire. With one bound Fred was free? Well, we'll see. The main thing, though, is for him to look as fit on Friday night as he did yesterday in Birmingham. Then it should be all systems go for Cardiff.
"I think I've done something like two years' rehab since 2005," said Flintoff. "It's been tough but the reason you do it is to put that England shirt back on and to get the chance to play in an Ashes series.
"I'm not far away from that now. You can have any other tournament you want but for an Englishman – and I'm sure I can speak for the Aussies as well – to get a chance to play in the Ashes is everything."
Flintoff is unlikely to be given the new ball, this week or next, because Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad have solid claims to open the bowling. And, asked about a batting spot, he joked about going in at No 3 before accepting that No 7 was the height of his current expectations.