Smiles all round as Flintoff returns to fray for England

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The Independent Online

When England tours are divided into blocks of Test and one-day cricket, and the changeover of players is high, it is inevitable that one group will consider themselves to be the poor relations.

Such concerns were put into perspective yesterday when the seven latecomers to England's Test and one-day tour of Bangladesh visited the village of Sreepur.

Founded in 1989 by Pat Kerr, a former British Airways stewardess, the village gives hope and opportunity to 500 abandoned children and over 100 destitute women. At Sreepur they are given shelter, education and the chance to learn a skill before returning to the harsh world outside.

For the children, the highlight of England's visit was playing cricket. Anthony McGrath bowled, Andrew Strauss and Ian Blackwell batted while James Kirtley, James Anderson and Vikram Solanki fetched the ball but Andrew Flintoff was the star. After hitting several balls into the trees he lost his off stump to a fast bowler with a questionable action. It was difficult to work out who had a bigger smile on his face: Flintoff, the bowler or the hundreds of jubilant children watching.

On split tours it is normally the one-day specialists who feel pressure to justify their selection. But when this group of cricketers contains Anderson, Flintoff and Kirtley, all match-winners for England in the summer, it is the Test side who should begin to fret.

Each will be welcomed back by the England captain, Michael Vaughan, but none more than Flintoff who was the pivotal figure during the Test series with South Africa. After setting up England's win in the final Test at The Oval with a scintillating 95, the Lancashire all-rounder withdrew from the Bangladesh Tests injured.

Initially there were fears that the groin injury was similar to that which kept Flintoff out of last winter's Ashes series in Australia. However these notions disappeared when the 25 year-old turned up in Dhaka fully fit and keen to get back into the thick of it.

"To be sat at home whilst England are playing has been frustrating," said Flintoff, "but there was very little I could do about it. The groin is great now. I spent a hard five weeks strengthening it and getting it 100 per cent right. The injury was just a reaction to the workload I took on during the summer in the back to back Test matches. I bowled almost 70 overs in each set and it just took a bit of a hammering. I had never done anything like that before."

Nobody would doubt England are a stronger side with Flintoff but there must be concerns over whether his body can carry such a heavy workload. The England coach, Duncan Fletcher, has said he would prefer it if Flintoff bowled fewer overs but the seamer has often been Vaughan's only reliable bowler.

"The injury is something I will have to be wary of," said Flintoff. "I am now on a strengthening program that I will probably have to do for the rest of my career so that I can keep bowling the overs I have to. I could not avoid bowling the number of overs I bowled this summer but in an ideal world I would not bowl as much as I did.

"I have always seen myself as a batting all-rounder and the bowling as a second string to my bow but the bowling is still something I want to keep improving on."

England play a practice game before Friday's first one-day International tomorrow against a Bangladesh Cricket Board Development squad in Dhaka. Flintoff will play but it is unlikely they will enjoy the experience as much as those children at Sreepur.