Flintoff starts long haul back to fitness

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As England landed in Ireland yesterday, the cheers of a grateful and incredulous nation still ringing in their ears, it was business as usual. The daily medical bulletin was issued on the state of Andrew Flintoff's knee.

He had left the team hotel on Monday for a date with the surgeon. Having issued a valedictory message (from Test cricket) that was touching and funny, he dashed to the clinic and yesterday the England and Wales Cricket Board, still nominally his employers, had a statement.

It said: "Andrew Flintoff underwent a routine arthroscopy and micro-fracture to two small areas in his right knee last night. The recovery from the operation will require him to be non-weight-bearing for the first six to eight weeks post surgery. At the end of this six- to eight-week period, the knee will be reviewed by his surgeon and the timescale for ongoing rehabilitation further determined."

But the team will have to get along without him for at least six months and probably more given the nature of the procedure. It is Flintoff's avowed intent to become the best one-day cricketer in the world but England have a minimum of 19 limited-overs matches before his probable return and things might have changed by then.

They will doubtless welcome him back but if, against the odds, they have somehow fashioned a winning side nothing is certain. At present Flintoff intends to be available for the tour of Bangladesh next February and despite his Herculean powers of recovery and bloody-mindedness he will certainly not make it before.

England must try to get along without him very well, starting in Belfast tomorrow. It is a 50-over one-day match they could have done without. Nominally a warm-up for the impending seven-match series against Australia, it is crazy scheduling.

Not only do Twenty20 internationals in Manchester intervene before the longer games begin, but the Ashes series has only just finished. Whether England won or lost that it would have given nobody time to digest properly seven weeks of high pressure cricket. Five of the team which won at The Oval on Sunday are in Belfast, probably five more than wish to be.

For Ireland, of course, it is an important match. They acquitted themselves well in the World Twenty20 earlier this summer, beating Bangladesh, and this match has now assumed a greater importance. Ireland will be out to get the Ashes winners.