To general expectation, Andrew Flintoff withdrew from England's squad for the World Twenty20 yesterday. To general surprise, his replacement was named as Adil Rashid, the Yorkshire leg-spinning all-rounder.
Flintoff has failed to recover from the knee injury he sustained while playing in the Indian Premier League in South Africa last month. He needed surgery to repair a meniscus tear and it was decided after he visited the surgeon yesterday that he would not be at full fitness in time for the tournament which begins next week.
England received permission for a replacement from the tournament's technical committee, though their choice of Rashid is extremely bold. Not only does he become the fifth uncapped Twenty20 player out of 15 in the squad but he has also had such an uninspired start to the season that he was left out of Yorkshire's side for the opening two matches of the domestic Twenty20 competition.
Good enough for England but not for his county? Who is to say who's right? Rashid, however, did not look ready for international cricket on England's tour of the West Indies earlier this year. Yorkshire have begun to prefer their 24-year-old left-arm spinner, David Wainwright, simply because he is the better bowler at present.
The decision seems to be the more mysterious because the selectors might so easily have opted for Tim Bresnan, a seam bowling all-rounder who has played for England in their two Tests and two one-day internationals this season. A poor man's Flintoff he may be but it would have made more sense. Perhaps the selectors have a plan for Rashid which Yorkshire have overlooked.
England are accustomed to being without Flintoff and yesterday's decision was almost certainly a question of judgement. Important though it undoubtedly is, the conclusion will have been reached that it is wiser for him to miss the World Twenty20 than risk aggravating the injury before the Ashes.
"Andrew is making excellent progress and there is no swelling or pain now in the knee," said Nick Peirce, chief medical officer of the England and Wales Cricket Board. "He has been putting in some extremely hard training with Lancashire and should start running and practising this week. After discussions with his surgeon we have decided that he should continue the remainder of his rehabilitation with physio Dave Roberts, who has overseen his previous rehabilitations."
Flintoff has missed plenty of England matches including 25 of the 47 Tests they have played since the last home Ashes series, his finest hour, and 39 of their 87 one-day internationals and eight of their 14 Twenty20 internationals in that period. Perhaps surprisingly it is the first major limited overs competition he has missed.
He has played in three World Cups with limited success and one of the most pitiable sights in the inaugural World Twenty20 two years ago was that of Flintoff bowling on despite the obvious pain from his fragile ankle. It has been, as it were, one thing after another. The litany of injuries to a body, which has naturally been prone to object to the strain he exerts on it, has stretched anatomical experts. Until recently, his knees were one of the few areas which had seemed in good working order.
National Selector Geoff Miller said: "We had to name Andrew in the ICC World Twenty20 15 because we hoped he would be fit but in reality the timescale was always optimistic. There is a lot of cricket still to play this year and it is important Andrew is fully fit for it."
It is unquestionably a sensible call by those associated with England. The Ashes might not quite depend on it, but the team will seem a whole lot stronger for Flintoff's presence.
Whether England will be stronger for Rashid being there is open to greater question. English cricket has been besotted by the idea of having a leg spinner since Shane Warne began playing his tricks. Rashid, 21, seemed to fit the bill and when he took 62 Championship wickets last season the excitement was tangible. He can bat properly as well and the suspicion has long been that England wanted to put him on the fast track, which Miller hardly denied.
"It is an exciting opportunity for Adil Rashid, who was in the original 30 we named in early April," he said. "He has impressed the England management after being a part of the Test tour to India and the subsequent Caribbean tour and deserves his chance."
For Andy Flower, England's coach, it is another face to assimilate into the dressing room. So far this summer the fresh faces have done well – Bresnan was one of them.
"We have integrated some new players into our teams this season and it has worked seamlessly," said Flower. "We intend the same thing to happen with the Twenty20 cricketers coming into the squad." He has one more now.
41 days to go:
"Having my partner in England is not a distraction," says Michael Clark in response to Michael Slater's fears over Aussie wives on tour. It looks like "Wag-gate" will run and run.
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