James Lawton: What's this Ashes summer all about Freddie? You or the England team?

Flintoff's desire to play at The Oval is understandable but the wisdom of it is another matter

This is not meant to challenge the heroic status of Andrew Flintoff but surely someone has to ask the leading question: what's it all about, Freddie?

This Ashes summer, I mean. Is it about England regaining the urn won so gloriously with the help of your inspiration in 2005, and then a year later squandered so grievously under your captaincy – or a series of Flintoff farewell concerts as stagy as any produced by the late Mr Frank Sinatra?

Right now there is a little confusion over the issue and it can hardly be said it is not self-generated.

The question can be asked without blurring for a second Flintoff's massive contribution to the one English victory of the current series at Lord's – or the bold splendour of the potentially vital knock of 74 in the third Test at Edgbaston. Where it is relevant, surely, is in the wake of his reaction to not being selected at Headingley and the statements of his agent, Chubby Chandler.

Based on that evidence, it seems that Flintoff was so angered by the English decision to go with medical evidence that a five-day Test match, perhaps even a two-and-a-half-day one, was beyond his physical powers that the moment Team England ceased to be Team Flintoff he left Headingley with rather less than a series of ringing endorsements for the pygmy figures who were required to labour in his absence.

The evidence for this conclusion is not exactly touched with ambiguity. Said Chandler, "I've seen a few disappointed sportsmen over the last few months but I've never seen anybody as low as Flintoff was on Thursday when he was told he would not be selected. He told them that he was fit enough to get through, that he felt no different to how he felt at Edgbaston and that he could get through and do his bit. They didn't want him."

"They didn't want him," is a phrase which might draw the inference that England's selectors, managers and captain, Andrew Strauss, had a less than perfect sense of his value to the team. This is palpably absurd. Flintoff's value to the team, emotionally, physically and, most of all, in terms of sheer bursting talent would surely not be lost on someone who might struggle to notice the difference between a long hop and a killer googly.

What England had to ask – and they would have been failing the remaining players as much as Flintoff had they not done so – was whether his selection would have been born of anything more than outright hope and speculation.

Anyone with one eye open at Edgbaston three days earlier would surely have had to accuse England of dereliction of duty had they not considered this vital issue. Even in the middle of his brilliant innings Flintoff looked like a man worn down to the last of his physical resources. When he bowled, wicketless, as Australia comfortably drew a veil over the possibility of defeat, the impression was even more pronounced. At one point he fell to the pitch, protecting his chronically injured knee and the simple act of regaining his feet seemed to be a considerable effort of will.

The more Chandler talked, the easier it was to sympathise with England's dilemma. The agent claimed, "He was prepared to do whatever it takes, to put whatever was needed to put into his knee." If a scrupulous trainer of horses was offered such advice he would surely not have dallied too long over his decision.

There is maybe an inevitable waft of cynicism in the air when we ponder the implications of another Chandler statement, the one that said, "The whole point of announcing his retirement when he did was to clear his head and do whatever was needed to be done to play the final Test matches of his career."

Yes, fine, but did this assume that England, so grateful to have his at times Herculean services, would suspend all the normal rules of selection, not to mention the obligation of care that normally attends the training and preparation of both human and equine sports stars? One racing insider was aghast yesterday at some of the comments from the Flintoff camp. "In any decent yard," he said, "what was being proposed for Freddie Flintoff just wouldn't, couldn't happen to a horse."

In the short break between Edgbaston and Headingley it was reasonable to take for granted Flintoff and his people's understanding of the basic point that no one, not even Andrew Flintoff or his injured team-mate and fellow superstar Kevin Pietersen, could ride indefinitely over the laws of nature. Indeed, many of Maradona's post-game agonies are attributed to years of being filled with painkillers, and then taking the hits to a body stripped of its ability to make proper reports to the brain.

It is also true that Flintoff's and Pietersen's participation in the Indian Premier League was the poorest of preparations for an Ashes series, and certainly in the case of Flintoff a less than convincing example of a man determined to "clear his head" for the final great challenge of his Test career.

After the implosion of the team in his absence, there will no doubt now be redoubled pressure to play Flintoff at The Oval next week. Heaven knows, the desire is understandable, but the wisdom of it is another matter.

Nor is there any question about the priority. It is to have a Flintoff still capable of the kind of effort he put in at Lord's, when he bowled with all the force and talent of a match-winning player. For this he needs a proper level of medical clearance and some convincing workouts. If these requirements are fulfilled, the nation will be right to be exhilarated by the prospect of one last statement from a hugely talented cricketer. Anything less, though, and the reaction has to be sharply different.

It has to be a lament for a failure of nerve and judgement. After Headingley, this surely is the last thing anyone wants.

Let Hawk-Eye put football's vital interests in focus

Despite an overwhelming desire in large tracts of the country to shoot the messenger, Sir Alex Ferguson was surely right to raise, before a ball is kicked seriously, the problem of refereeing inconsistency.

The trend disfigured so much of last season and re-emphasised the need for some kind of technological supervision of match officials. The incidents at Wembley on Sunday were not ideal examples of the appropriateness of such a procedure, but in the matter of penalties and offside decisions there is surely an ever-growing case for a referral system, albeit strictly rationed.

Without such safeguards we know as a matter of certainty that the complaints of Ferguson at the weekend will be routinely resurrected by every manager in the game. It is wearisome – and quite often it is the direct result of an absolute inability to see more than your own side of the argument.

However, football, as we are constantly told, is a multibillion pound industry. Surely it should thus fork out a little to protect the product.

Rugby's stars have failed in their first duty

When an iconic figure like Dean Richards, the ferocious England No 8 who was a cult hero long before becoming a highly successful coach, goes down, and no one can raise a whimper of protest, you know that rugby is indeed in big trouble.

But of course it is right that Harlequins wing Tom Williams is no longer the sole victim of the outrageous cheating in which he was cast as the central figure.

It is even better that at last the game appears to have a sense of the disastrous state of its current image. England's success in the campaign to host the 2015 World Cup was all very well, but much more important now is the vital cleansing of a game beset by eye-gouging, recreational drug abuse and appalling evidence of institutionalised cheating.

One lingering difficulty of the Harlequins case, though, is the impression that many in rugby see Williams as a victim as much as a culprit. There was a similar reaction when racing champion Lewis Hamilton was found guilty of lying to grand prix stewards. In both cases the teams of the rugby player and the racer carried heavy responsibility.

However, Hamilton didn't have to lie. Nor did Williams have to bite into the fake blood capsule, pull off the ruse and then wink as he left the field. The primary duty of any sportsman, professional or not, is surely plain enough. It is to be true to himself – and the game he purports to love.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen
Secrets of comedy couples: What's it like when both you and your partner are stand-ups?

Secrets of comedy couples

What's it like when both you and your partner are stand-ups?
Satya Nadella: As Windows 10 is launched can he return Microsoft to its former glory?

Satya Nadella: The man to clean up for Windows?

While Microsoft's founders spend their billions, the once-invincible tech company's new boss is trying to save it
The best swimwear for men: From trunks to shorts, make a splash this summer

The best swimwear for men

From trunks to shorts, make a splash this summer
Mark Hix recipes: Our chef tries his hand at a spot of summer foraging

Mark Hix goes summer foraging

 A dinner party doesn't have to mean a trip to the supermarket
Ashes 2015: With an audacious flourish, home hero Ian Bell ends all debate

With an audacious flourish, the home hero ends all debate

Ian Bell advances to Trent Bridge next week almost as undroppable as Alastair Cook and Joe Root, a cornerstone of England's new thinking, says Kevin Garside
Aaron Ramsey interview: Wales midfielder determined to be centre of attention for Arsenal this season

Aaron Ramsey interview

Wales midfielder determined to be centre of attention for Arsenal this season
Community Shield: Arsene Wenger needs to strike first blow in rivalry with Jose Mourinho

Community Shield gives Wenger chance to strike first blow in rivalry with Mourinho

As long as the Arsenal manager's run of games without a win over his Chelsea counterpart continues it will continue to dominate the narrative around the two men
The unlikely rise of AFC Bournemouth - and what it says about English life

Unlikely rise of AFC Bournemouth

Bournemouth’s elevation to football’s top tier is one of the most improbable of recent times. But it’s illustrative of deeper and wider changes in English life
A Very British Coup, part two: New novel in pipeline as Jeremy Corbyn's rise inspires sequel

A Very British Coup, part two

New novel in pipeline as Jeremy Corbyn's rise inspires sequel
Philae lander data show comets could have brought 'building blocks of life' to Earth

Philae lander data show comets could have brought 'building blocks of life' to Earth

Icy dust layer holds organic compounds similar to those found in living organisms