Selectors avoid the hard call in trying to placate key men

Weak decision over captaincy shows England fear upsetting 'Freddie', writes Angus Fraser
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The Independent Online

The decision of the England selectors to appoint Andrew Flintoff ahead of Andrew Strauss as one-day captain must be questioned. Publicly, they will state that Flintoff is the right man but privately they must have real reservations, especially after watching the 29-year-old Flintoff play with such freedom during England's first victory Down Under on Tuesday.

Flintoff is not a natural leader and on several occasions in the Ashes series his tactics were found wanting. When this is added to the fact that he appeared revitalised in Hobart, where he took 2 for 37 and made a match-winning unbeaten 72 against New Zealand, you do begin to wonder why the selectors came to this decision?

The move smacks of weak management. The selectors must realise by now that Flintoff is a far better cricketer when the shackles of captaincy are removed and he is allowed just to play. Yet it appears as though they obsessed with not upsetting the team's most influential player in case it has a negative effect on him.

At the conclusion of the Ashes whitewash, the selectors went out of their way to praise Flintoff, even though he had had a pretty ordinary series all round. David Graveney, the chairman of selectors, admitted that mistakes had been made but giving the captaincy to Flintoff was not one of them. Loyalty is an honourable and rarely seen trait these days, but on this occasion the selectors have taken it too far.

Their dealings with Flintoff equate to the phone call you do not want to make - the longer you leave it the harder it becomes. It is not Flintoff's fault that he is captain and, understandably, that he wants to lead England on as many occasions as possible. Turning down the opportunity is something he would never be allowed to forget.

It is the selectors who have gaffed. Graveney, Fletcher and Geoff Miller put themselves in an awkward position last summer when they stated that the all-rounder would return as Michael Vaughan's stand-in as soon as he had recovered from an ankle injury. It was one of the main reasons why he was made captain ahead of Strauss in the Ashes, and the desire not to distress Flintoff could yet see him lead England to the World Cup in March.