Flintoff ready to fire on home front despite lure of foreign fields

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The Independent Online

Given the potential value in rupees of a fit and firing Andrew Flintoff, the news from Old Trafford as Lancashire and England's biggest drawing card prepares to test the success of his latest ankle operation may be interpreted as good, or bad.

In the short term, on both domestic and home international fronts, it is unquestionably the former. Six months after his left ankle went under the surgeon's knife for the fourth time, following his break-down in the Twenty20 World Cup last September, the 30-year-old all-rounder believes he is close to his physical best and ready to recapture the form that made him England's talisman in the Ashes-winning summer of 2005.

Should his assessment be proved accurate, his return to the Test side for this year's first encounter with New Zealand at Lord's on 15 May can be taken as read. By then it may also be clear just how far the cash-rich Indian Premier League will go to tempt him into a potentially difficult choice.

It is a question Flintoff is happy to bat into the long grass for the moment. Asked yesterday about where he stood about a competition from which he might have been looking at a £750,000 pay cheque had he been in a position to accept the largesse already bestowed on the likes of Andrew Symonds and Mahendra Singh Dhoni, he did not rule out his future involvement but was clearly in an issue-dodging mood.

"It has been mentioned," he said, making no attempt to conceal a wry smile. "But I've got a lot on my plate at the moment. I want to get back on the field for Lancashire and then I want to play for England again. Everyone keeps asking me where I think it is going but I don't know. It is taking place in the next few weeks and we'll see how it goes.

"For me it is not an option at the moment. Further down the line, who knows?"

Next year, he insists his focus will be on England in the West Indies, although Lancashire's chief executive, Jim Cumbes, believes the calendar may have undergone seismic shifts because of the impact of the IPL and the rival unofficial Indian Cricket League.

"The game here is going to have to react pretty quickly, in my opinion, to remove the threat of losing players," he said. "It is inevitable that English players will become involved with the sums of money that are being bandied about, unless we can move quickly to set up something to keep them here. It is too late this season but something will have to be in place from 2009 onwards if we are to see off the threat."

That something will probably be the inclusion of more Twenty20 cricket in the English domestic programme, probably at the expense of the Pro40 league and perhaps even with a reduction in the County Championship programme, although the latter would meet with stiff opposition.

As for Flintoff, he is thinking no further ahead than Lancashire's programme for the first weeks of this season. "Physically I feel great," he said. "Having seen what the surgeon took out of my ankle last October [bone fragments were removed by keyhole surgery], I'm confident it will be fine.

"I'd be lying if I said there wasn't a small niggle at the back of my mind – after four operations that's inevitable. I just hope that if you ask me in July with 150-200 overs under my belt that I'm still all right.

"But, because there has been no Ashes and no World Cup to get ready for, this time we have been able to take the time to get it right. For the first time in a long time I've had a proper pre-season and I can't wait to get started.

"I'd love to be involved in the first Test but I'm under no illusions. To get back into the side I'm going to have to be fit and playing well."

Flintoff is due to play in two friendlies against Yorkshire next week before Lancashire begin their Championship season against Surrey at The Oval on 16 April.

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