Flintoff to fly home despite heroic display

  • @stephenbrenkley

By this time next week Andrew Flintoff will be back in Lancashire watching the rain. The whole country would rather he was in Pakistan sweating buckets. Most mothers-in-law would doubtless accompany him gladly.

By this time next week Andrew Flintoff will be back in Lancashire watching the rain. The whole country would rather he was in Pakistan sweating buckets. Most mothers-in-law would doubtless accompany him gladly.

Everybody now wants to see the man popularly known as Freddie doing what he does best, which is hitting a cricket ball extremely hard an extremely long way.

Flintoff and the rest of the England squad arrived in Lahore yesterday on a morning flight from Karachi, where the night before they had won a famous one-day victory. It was a team effort par excellence, but more than anything it was Flintoff's destructive hitting allied to a calm orthodoxy which took them to within sight of the 305 they needed to win the opening match of the series. "My whole aim was just to play straight, not to play big shots, just push the score along," he said yesterday, having had a few hours to dwell on his highest score for England.

"I'm not really aware of how it's gone down at home. I rang the missus when I got back to the hotel and there were a few messages flashing on the phone but I don't know how to retrieve them."

His innings of 84 from 60 balls would have been breathtaking in any circumstances. Given that the temperature was bordering on 100F (which actually made the process of taking breath difficult enough in itself), 35,000 fervent Pakistanis were urging their boys to win in a swirl of constant noise, and England had never successfully pursued such a target before, it is understandable that it captured the attention of a nation.

The nation will have to wait, however, for more of Flintoff. His back condition, which prevents him from bowling, means that he will leave the squad after the remaining two one-dayers and miss the Test series. There was no re-think yesterday, England's coach Duncan Fletcher confirmed. Asked why the Lancastrian was not staying all winter, Fletcher said: "Probably the selectors have got it wrong." He was kidding, of course, but there was no doubt an underlying element of deadly seriousness. Fletcher has not got England where they are today by kidding.

"It's a very difficult one," he added. "You've got to make decisions. It's all very well in hindsight. We think he can play but you've got to make a decision at a certain stage. Things can change. I don't think anything is really steadfast."

There was just a glimmer of a suggestion in that comment that Flintoff might still stay on. He is certainly on stand-by now as a specialist batsman together with John Crawley and Vikram Solanki.

Anybody who saw Flintoff at the National Stadium would wonder two things: why is he not in the side for his batting in any case and what, if he can bat like that in such intense heat on a hard wicket, is wrong with his back?

The selection was made in late August. Flintoff, at least as far as the Test squad was concerned, made it as an all-rounder. If he cannot bowl the balance of the side is affected. Fletcher conceded that England had thought about keeping him on only as a batsman, but balance won. Hence, it was decided to summon Alex Tudor, a bowler who can bat purposefully.

Flintoff's back only hurts when he bowls. If he does not bowl he can run, turn and throw without discomfort. As soon as he bowls, the other parts of his game suffer. So far, he has had 11 injections without long-term benefit. "I always knew I would be going home if my back went again," he said. "I don't think it's any use going for a quick fix. I'll go and see the specialists and look for something long term."

England's man-of-the-match rightly paid tribute to Graham Thorpe, his partner throughout his innings, who kept an eye on the scoreboard, calculated what they wanted and clearly "knows his six times table".

Flintoff himself was pleased that he had not succumbed to the kind of rush of blood that has been his downfall previously. The ball goes further with a bat weighing 2lb 10oz, which indicates that he relies on timing as much as brute strength. Fletcher said that he was among the hardest hitters of a ball he had seen.

The result represented a splendid beginning for England (and Flintoff's innings managed to overshadow that of the outrageously talented Abdur Razzaq, who made 75 not out from 40 balls). Fletcher said it was one of his most satisfying results, though he suggested the new ball bowling could improve. He dismissed Alec Stewart's show of disaffection at his dismissal. "I just think it's wrong for them to be like robots," he said.

It is appropriate that England's management are now trying to ensure that Flintoff's feet stay on the ground - a difficult task when he launches the ball so far into the clouds.