Windies player strike could ruin Flintoff's return

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The Independent Online

Andrew Flintoff will be fit for the rest of England's one-day series in the West Indies. That assumes, of course, that his fragile body can withstand the rigours of the three matches that remain, two of which England must win to salvage something from their disappointing winter.

With their leading all-rounder around, the tourists have a much better chance of defeating the West Indies partly because of his reputation but mainly because he remains among the most powerful one-day bowlers in the world. England look better with him in the side because they are better.

Flintoff (right) has been out of the team since he tore a hip muscle during the drawn third Test match in Antigua in the middle of last month. He went home for a week for intensive treatment and returned to the Caribbean at the start of the limited overs matches.

There was some doubt last night that there would be a series for Flintoff or anybody else to play in. A dispute over money and contracts between the West Indies Cricket Board and the West Indies Players' Association could yet end in strike action.

That may be improbable but the players have longstanding grievances and three matches in the domestic first-class competition failed to start on time last week after the players withdrew their labour. The West Indies players also covered up the sponsors' logo on their shirt sleeves during the first of the two one-dayers in Guyana, which has, in turn, understandably incensed the mobile company Digicel, who are the last remaining company doing business with West Indies cricket.

Senior players and the firebrand WIPA president, Dinanath Ramnarine, were meeting the WICB's top management, led by their president, Dr Julian Hunte, in a Barbados hotel yesterday. The players are aggrieved about the way contracts have been handled for their recent tour of New Zealand and for the series against England. They have had a succession of issues with their board in the past five years and have won every time.

England, meanwhile, can only continue to prepare for a match they need to win to ensure the series goes the distance. They did so with an early morning training session yesterday, doubtless having had the spring in their step enhanced by Flintoff's availability for selection.

Flintoff has remained cheerful about his playing prospects throughout a succession of injuries, usually to his left ankle, since the 2005 Ashes. But the pressure he puts on his body because of the wholehearted manner in which plays is a constant concern.

"It was a muscle tear which is something that just heals so there was never any worry about long-term effects of operations or anything like that," he said. "One of the things that has happened when I have come back from not playing is that I'm more vulnerable to things like a side strain."

Flintoff has no intention of picking and choosing his matches in the coming hectic summer. If he makes them all then he really will seem to be on the way to conquering his physical problems.

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