Flintoff's injury forces England to recall Tudor

It was always likely to be a close-run race in this winter's England squad between the first dose of Karachi Tummy and Andrew Flintoff's flight home.

It was always likely to be a close-run race in this winter's England squad between the first dose of Karachi Tummy and Andrew Flintoff's flight home.

Shortly after nets yesterday, and despite a few dashes to the team physiotherapist for Imodium capsules, the Lancastrian all-rounder squeezed to the tape by announcing his departure from the tour. Or rather, it was announced for him by the coach, Duncan Fletcher, and, between doling out the precautionary loperamide hydrochloride, the physio, Dean Conway. Flintoff's injured back, which is not so much a recurrence as a permanent state, means he will miss the Test series against Pakistan. He will play in the one-day series, which starts next Tuesday, as a specialist batsman and will then be replaced as an all-rounder by Alex Tudor.

Fletcher said: "What happens now is up to him. He has to make the decision whether there has to be an operation or not, depending on what the doctors say."

It will not be forgotten that Tudor last played a Test match in June 1999, when he scored 99 not out before missing the rest of the series with a sore knee. At least he has been fit for most of the time since.

The latest exit for Flintoff, which follows his breakdown with a stress fracture of the left foot in South Africa last winter, is perhaps also the greatest setback to a career which has been longer on promise than achievement but whose possibilities were endless. He possesses, inadvertently, that combination of flair and vulnerability which makes for sports stardom and his tendency to put on weight, beefing up an image as a gentle giant, has been both his chief asset and his greatest enemy.

The chances that Flintoff will never bowl seriously again are now stark. Neither Fletcher nor Conway played down the turn of events. Conway said: "He will go back to England and the specialists will decide what happens next by devising a programme of action. But the truth is there has been no improvement. We're not going to give up on him and I still feel he will bowl again but now I think we're working to a new set of guidelines about how much he can bowl." If anything, Fletcher betrayed a less optimistic view. "If he was fit I think he would have been a very effective all-rounder," he said.

Maybe that apparent consigning to history of Flintoff as a multi-disciplined cricketer was a slip of the tongue but at least Fletcher was adamant that his player could make it as a specialist batsman. "I still think he has the ability to bat at this level. His trouble is in the way he plays and knowing when he should defend." Flintoff has had 11 injections to try to cure the ailment to his lower left back. None has made a lasting impression. Part of the problem is that although the area is a traditional weak spot for faster bowlers, the man known as Freddie is showing signs of a stress fracture without actually having one. Without an exact diagnosis there can be no accurate prognosis.

Conway said he had the back of someone much older and there had been definite signs of earlier stress fractures, with scar tissue having built up since. There are probably indications, too, that he bowled too much as a youngster. The Flintoff back might not have exercised the imagination of the public quite like, say, Denis Compton's knee or Desert Orchid's fetlock once did but for a 23-year-old with a Test batting average of 16.64 and a bowling average of 55, who has scored only one half century in a one-day international, the fascination has been enormous. It reflects both his talent and the nation's desire for a new hero.

There have been breathtaking glimpses of what he can do: 61 from 24 balls in a County Championship match, 143 from 66 in a National League match and last summer 135 not out from 117 in a NatWest quarter-final at The Oval. But he has been dogged throughout. When the back has been strong he has invariably weighed too much.

It reached farcical levels last summer when it was discovered that he was heavier than Lennox Lewis but did not quite have the reach. The eternally placid Flintoff was decidedly upset by the false comparison. The management requested that he be left alone to dwell on his fate yesterday. Naturally, he is frustrated but it is not on his nature to be down at heart and, asked about his imminent departure, he said: "It's just one of those things. I'll get back and get it sorted out once and for all." Maybe, maybe not. In any case, England may not have seen the last of him this winter. He will now be put on stand-by as a replacement batsman and he still has a chance in the next few days to improve his one-day record. Flintoff will almost definitely be in the starting XI for the one-dayers. His back only hurts when he is bowling.

England will play Pakistan A in a warm-up match today. They can expect no easy ride. The opposition will include eight players with full international experience. It may be enough to turn a few stomachs.

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