Andrew Flintoff will miss England's one-day series in Sri Lanka because of his chronically troublesome left ankle.He grimaced and limped his way through each match he played in the World Twenty20 in the past 10 days so the announcement was not so much news as blessed relief.
Although the soundings from the team management were optimistic yesterday, there are grave doubts about the all-rounder's future. His role in Test cricket is particularly at risk since he can barely bowl spells of four overs at present, let alone the 20 or so that might be demanded on successive days in the longer game.
Flintoff will try to strengthen the ankle in an attempt to regain fitness for the Test tour to Sri Lanka starting in November. As he has bowled only 78.2 overs since returning after a third operation in July, that may be a forlorn target.
The pain was obvious with almost every ball he bowled during England's insipid progress in the World Twenty20. That he was still by a distance the team's best bowler says much about how they will miss him.
It seemed almost brutal that he was playing and it was extremely surprising when he appeared in the final, dead match against India. Coach Peter Moores said yesterday: "We needed to find out how it was going to react in match conditions. This tournament was about the right length, four overs at a time. I don't think it's got any worse but he is playing with pain and it's been decided the best thing for him to do is go home and let it recover. The medical team are confident it's not suddenly going to go. At 29 I'm confident he can come back and be the force he was."
There is bound to be scepticism about the medical advice. Flintoff has had three operations on the ankle and each time it has given way again. If his next return is ill-judged that really would be that.
Flintoff's flight home deflected attention from the paucity of England's performances. They won one match and lost four, being well beaten in two and throwing away two others from winning positions. It was awful.
They never fielded an unchanged team, they used three different opening partnerships – only partly because of Matthew Prior's absence from the last two matches with a broken thumb – and the rest of the order was hardly stable.
Two of the specialists picked for their prowess in domestic Twenty20, Jeremy Snape and James Kirtley, played one game each and bowled one over each. Captain Paul Collingwood was fined £1,000 for visiting a Cape Town lap-dancing club in the small hours and once miscalculated the number of overs bowled. In the last match, Stuart Broad became only the fourth player in professional cricket to be hit for six sixes in an over.
"We have learned huge amounts at Twenty20 and about one-day cricket," said Moores. "It's part of our journey to get where we want which ultimately is the World Cup in 2011." England look as though they will need every minute available – and Flintoff.
As he flew home yesterday it was confirmed that Ottis Gibson will join the squad as bowling coach for both legs of the Sri Lanka tour, replacing Allan Donald, who has other commitments.
l Hosts South Africa failed to reach the semi-finals after last night's 37-run defeat by India. After India made 153 for 5, South Africa required 126 to pip New Zealand on run rate, but slid to 116 for 9. India will now play Australia and New Zealand take on Pakistan in tomorrow's semi-finals.Reuse content