Selectors should steer clear of Flintoff
Adam and Eve failed to resist temptation but will Geoff Miller and the England selectors tomorrow when they announce their squad for the first Test against New Zealand? Bait does not come in the form of an apple, but it is the apple of English cricket's eye, Andrew Flintoff, who dominated conversation during the selectors' six-hour meeting in Nottingham on Thursday.
The selectors' predicament has not been helped by Paul Collingwood, who finished yesterday's Championship match against Lancashire complaining of soreness in his right shoulder and stiffness to his lower back. Collingwood had an injection in his shoulder and is having regular massage on his back.
The all-rounder will be desperate to play at Lord's. Collingwood knows that if England drop a batsman it is likely to be him and he has no desire to give a competitor the sniff of a chance. He will say that he is fit to bat but the ailments reduce his chances of bowling, which in turn decreases the possibility of Flintoff being selected.
Collingwood's bowling, though occasional in Tests, would potentially help reduce Flintoff's workload. Without Collingwood, captain Michael Vaughan would have no cover for a bowler that is still recovering from a fourth ankle operation. It leaves the selectors with plenty to think about. Should they pick their rehabilitating talisman, or would it be in the long-term interests of both parties to show caution?
There are strong cases for both arguments. Those that have played with or against Flintoff this summer insist he is back to his best. Somerset's Justin Langer and Marcus Trescothick say his pace is right up there – 85-90mph – he is taking wickets and he should be picked. To them his poor form with the bat is irrelevant. When fully fit he is England's best bowler, it's as simple as that.
Unfortunately it's not. A career is at stake. But there are times when Flintoff needs protecting from himself. He is incapable of giving less than 100 per cent and he would happily do everything Vaughan asked of him at Lord's next week.
Flintoff may be shining for Lancashire but it is as a member of a five-man attack, where his workload can be managed sympathetically. Should he be picked for the first Test it would be in a four-man attack containing two further seamers – Ryan Sidebottom and Stuart Broad – and a spinner – Monty Panesar. Such a set-up would considerably increase his workload, especially if the weather is overcast and the pitch seamer friendly. In these conditions Flintoff would be expected to bowl at least 20 overs per day, something he is yet to do for Lancashire this season.
The desire to pick Flintoff would be less were he not taking wickets – 14 at an average of 15 in all cricket – but on previous returns his problems have resurfaced when he has bowled 150-200 overs. He has currently delivered 95, half that his rehabilitation team would like to see him bowl before an England recall. It may sound negative but if England were to pick Flintoff and he broke down after bowling 50 overs, the selectors would be criticised for rushing him back, therefore they should resist the temptation.
Tim Ambrose's fitness will be monitored, too, after a stiff neck yesterday prevented the England 'keeper from taking the field during Warwickshire's match against Derbyshire. James Anderson's encouraging start to the season could see him named as cover for Collingwood.
Angus Fraser's squad: M P Vaughan (c), A N Cook, A J Strauss, K P Pietersen, I R Bell, P D Collingwood, T R Ambrose (wkt), S C J Broad, R J Sidebottom, M S Panesar, J M Anderson, M J Hoggard, O A Shah.
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