Flintoff's strain is a pain in the neck for Moores

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The Independent Online

Common sense and desperation are not good bedfellows, yet those were the twin notions raging in Andrew Flintoff's head last night as he contemplated whether to declare himself fit for this morning's third NatWest Series match against India.

Flintoff complained of stiffness behind his right knee while taking 5 for 56 during England's nine-run defeat to India on Friday, symptoms that a subsequent scan showed were caused by irritation and inflammation within the knee joint. In an attempt to hasten the all-rounder's recovery, he was given an anti-inflammatory cortisone injection on Saturday.

With the long-term interests of Flintoff being paramount, it would be sensible for the 29-year-old to sit out today's match at Edgbaston and return when his recovery is complete. But these emotions tend not to prevail in men who have spent sizeable chunks of their careers on the sidelines because of injury. The desire to get out and play is far stronger than that to be rational. The quandary leaves Flintoff and, in particular, Peter Moores, the England coach, with a difficult decision to make.

Sports medicine has made significant advances in the last decade, but, on the vast majority of occasions in cricket, it is still the player who ultimately decides whether or not he is fit to play. With the decision comes responsibility, but, unless the nature of the injury is glaringly obvious, the athlete is the only person who knows exactly how much it hurts and to what level he is capable of performing.

Had Michael Atherton, the former England captain and opening bat, made himself available for selection only when he was pain-free, he would have played in just a fraction of the Tests he did. Flintoff, thankfully, is of a similar mindset – good teams do not contain players who wimp out with minor ailments whenever they can – but his craving to play leaves Moores and Paul Collingwood, the captain, with a dilemma. The pair desperately want Flintoff to be available, but they do not just want him to play today and at Old Trafford on Thursday, they want him to perform in next month's World Twenty20 Championship in South Africa, and in the Tests and one-dayers that follow in Sri Lanka. Moores and Collingwood need to protect Flintoff from himself, but they need to do it without alienating the player. It will not be easy.

"Telling Andrew that he is not playing would be a very, very tough decision," admitted Moores, after a practice session in which Flintoff batted but did not field or bowl. "Andrew is very keen to play, and his knee has responded well so far. He has missed a lot of cricket, and he wants to get out there. We have to make sure that we balance it over a long series. The medics have looked at the injury and they are not too concerned about it long-term. But if it is more sensible for him to miss a game, then carry on after, we will do that.

"These things tend to work themselves out. Fred [Flintoff] has played a lot of cricket, and he knows his body. You have to trust the player, and he is keen to play, but he also knows that there is a lot of cricket to come, and he does not want to miss out on that cricket. I think, between Fred, myself and the medical team, we will make the right call."

Replacing Flintoff is impossible, and his spot, should he not play, will probably go to Owais Shah. England fielded a side containing seven seamers at Bristol on Friday and Collingwood and Ravi Bopara could share Flintoff's overs.

Flintoff's predicament, and a fighting 52 at Bristol, should give Dimitri Mascarenhas another opportunity, but it will ultimately be his bowling that decides whether he has a future in one-day cricket. Monty Panesar, who was controversially omitted on Friday, is expected to replace Chris Tremlett, giving England's attack some much-needed variety.

The opening two matches of the series have been day-night encounters, but a 10.15 start this morning means the toss could be just as important. In dewy, heavy, early-morning conditions, the ball could swing around significantly, but England are unlikely to play Gloucestershire's Jon Lewis, who was called in to act as cover for Flintoff and Ryan Sidebottom.

Such conditions would help India's Zaheer Khan, too. Khan missed the second game through illness, and he will replace either Munaf Patel or Ajit Agarkar. Edgbaston is a bigger ground than Bristol, and it would be a surprise if the tourists did not continue with the policy of playing two spinners.

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