Andrew Flintoff flew home from the West Indies last night and will miss the final Test match in Trinidad. He hopes to return to play in the one-day series but that is far from certain.
The all-rounder will have intensive treatment on a tear in a muscle around his right hip in the next 12 days, working closely with Dave Roberts, a man who knows Flintoff's injury ravaged body intimately and has remade it as fit for purpose many times in the last few years.
"I think it's the best thing for me at the moment and I'm more confident than I was a week ago that I can get fit and come back," said Flintoff. "It's desperately frustrating because it's one thing after another. After the second innings in Antigua last week, for the first time in a long time I came in and threw my bat against a wall."
It is the sixth time in the last 10 years that Flintoff has been forced to leave an England tour with various injuries, previously to his back and ankle. Despite his fragile body and the impending Ashes series this summer, he still refuses to withdraw from the Indian Premier League, where he stands to earn around £500,000 from Chennai Super Kings for three weeks.
He said: "It seems at the minute everyone's going about the IPL and it's a hot topic, but my goal is to play in this one-day series for England. The IPL is still a few weeks away and it will take care of itself. It's something I want to go on, but playing for England is the ultimate and that's what I want to do."
While the money on offer in the Indian Twenty20 tournament is obviously the main attraction, there would be hell to pay if his body let him down again there. But he reaffirmed his desire and intention to be ready for the Ashes.
"Everyone is going on about the Ashes, there's a lot of cricket before then," he said. "The Ashes are at the back end of summer. I want to be in the Ashes, don't get me wrong. I desperately want to play against Australia again and I'm not going to jeopardise that by doing anything I don't think I can do."
It is becoming increasingly evident by the day that playing for England and playing in the IPL will be an uncomfortable combination. The ECB is contacting all the IPL franchises with English players hoping to put in place the kind of network they have with English counties on players' fitness. Players, to a man, insist that their first loyalty is to England but in the case of Flintoff the riches on offer on India are mind-boggling.
He was signed for $1.55m (£1.05m) in the franchise auction three weeks ago and although he is available for only part of the tournament he will still receive by far the biggest pay packet of his career. Hugh Morris, the England managing director, recognised that controversy lies round the IPL corner and tried, as his wont, to head it off at the pass. "We will be having a lot of conversations over the next few weeks but we have excellent support services in place," he said.
"The critical thing we want to do is support Fred over the next 12 days or so. We feel that going home will benefit him. It's happened before and has worked really well before. If he's fit and ready for the one-day series we haven't got a problem."
Flintoff, who first had to leave for home as long ago as the Pakistan tour in 1999, has been resting in Bridgetown this past week in the forlorn hope that his hip might recover. His family have been with him and there might have been some logistical considerations in the decision to keep him with the squad.
"I know what I need to do to get fit," said Flintoff. "It makes it harder being around Test matches, you desperately want to play, all the other players are around and you're a little bit flat because of it. You don't know where to put yourself. Everyone is asking you about your injury all the time. I just want to get home and do my work."
Flintoff felt the latest injury in Jamaica and dimissed it as simple tightness. It gradually became worse during the Test match in Antigua and Flintoff, warrior that he is, insisted on bowling through the pain as England tried in vain to eke out the win that would have brought them level in the series.
No doubt, he will try extremely hard to return to the Caribbean because he has missed so much cricket for England. But more rest may yet be advisable if the Ashes are to be anything but a dream.Reuse content