Flintoff's mammoth talent should not be stifled

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The Independent Online

It is invariably disappointing to be dropped. But this time at least I was hardly surprised. When the names were announced for the England team for the Fourth Test I was not expecting my name to be on the list.

It is invariably disappointing to be dropped. But this time at least I was hardly surprised. When the names were announced for the England team for the Fourth Test I was not expecting my name to be on the list.

I was handed a golden opportunity by Duncan Fletcher and Nasser Hussain to resume my Test career as an opening batsman. You have to grab chances like that with both hands. I haven't. Conditions in the first half of the season were particularly difficult for run-scoring but I can't grumble.

And then there was Marcus Trescothick. He was brought into the England one-day side as a replacement and immediately seized the day. He looks to be batting very confidently, hitting shots off front and back foot and so far it has worked extremely well for him. Marcus fully deserves his chance.

So back to the shires. But I am not done with England yet. I am still hungry, am not yet 31 and I have the sense of unfinished business, of being unfulfilled, at international level. I feel there is more to come.

The perversity is, of course, that in the past month I have rediscovered my rhythm and form. On Friday at Southgate on the best batting pitch of the season so far I scored a second century, the 49th of mycareer. I am enjoying batting.

Since making the move down the order I have felt more comfortable. Hindsight is a wonderful ally but I wonder now, even after England earmarked me as an opener, whether I should have continued at three or four for Middlesex. That familiarity could well have helped me to get a few scores and I would have gone into the Tests with weight of runs behind me.

I will continue to take pride in my performance. If I were never to play for England again I would do that. I am now reaching the stage of my life where I am going up the Middlesex list of run-scorers and they are targets that come to matter.

This, incidentally, is a key time for Middlesex, one of the premier counties but at the foot of Division Two of the Championship, knocked out of the NatWest Trophy in thequarter-final last week and woefully short of runs. The Lord's pitch for the cup tie against Hampshire was not good enough. It had been well used before and it started wet, exactly what you do not want for a one-dayer. But the side batted badly again. The late middle order is barely contributing at all.

The county might reflect on the playing staff it has employed in the last few years. There are several players of rich promise who have found no consistency of form. August is a big month. A county such as Middlesex, with their place in the game, should not be at the wrong end of Division Two. I want to play in a winning side.

Mine was not the only name to be omitted from the England team for the match at Old Trafford. Andrew Flintoff was also missing. What a response he made in his very next innings. That unbeaten 135 he made in Lancashire's NatWest Trophy tie at The Oval was breathtaking. All the players at Southgate on Friday were still talking about it. Make no mistake, "Freddie" has a big future with England. That innings, containing as it did a sequence of blistering but proper cricket shots, was on a par, truly, with what Ian Botham and Viv Richards could have done. It was that good.

But even Botham and Richards could not go out and do it every time they batted. Botham failed sometimes, even Richards did. It is quite unfair to expect Flintoff to go out and reproduce that sort of vintage every time he walks to the crease.

He is the sort of player that you have to be prepared to accept will not always come off. Perhaps he will not do what he did on Wednesday again this season. But a talent like his does not need stifling. He will be back for England and he will win matches. Flintoff is 22 and the English game needs his like. He will empty bars and fill seats. His problems with his weight and his back have been well chronicled. The back injury is preventing him bowling at present and he can bowl by the way. He has it in him to be an all-rounder of high achievement. Equally, if he never bowled another ball for England I am convinced he could hold down a place as a batsman.

Flintoff, as he showed at The Oval with his murderous hitting, is an exceptional talent. We need him. Good luck to him. He will be back. I intend to be there with him.