Lancs map out Flintoff future
When it comes to Andrew Flintoff’s fitness, no-one can accuse Lancashire of not paying enough attention to detail.
The health of the all-rounder has been one of cricket’s hottest topics in recent years, with hundreds of column inches, hours of television footage and countless website pages dedicated to his troublesome left ankle.
The clamour for information about Flintoff’s wellbeing has grown steadily since he underwent surgery for a fourth time on the joint late last year, and more people are sure to show an interest as the first Test of the summer between England and New Zealand draws closer.
That may be six weeks away, but Lancashire have already mapped out Flintoff’s schedule to the smallest detail.
With player, county and country eager to avoid another repeat of his ultimately unsuccessful comebacks from three similar operations, no stone has been left unturned as Flintoff eases his way back towards playing competitive cricket.
Back bowling at something approaching full speed and “feeling physically great”, according to the man himself, Lancashire are nevertheless making no compromises in his rehabilitation programme.
“We count the balls he bowls - we can’t get any more exact than that,” said Lancashire cricket manager Mike Watkinson, who has been responsible for managing Flintoff’s workload on the pre-season tour of the United Arab Emirates.
“We’ve got a programme, put together by ourselves and the ECB, for the next month to six weeks and it’s very structured and very regimented. We know which days are his bowling days, which days are his rest days.
“He might say, ‘I’m feeling good – I want to bowl for another 20 minutes’. And we say, ‘No you’re not – that’s what our programme says and you stop now. You come back again in however many days’ time and crank it again’.”
Flintoff has been limited to five-over spells in the nets, bowling with “good gas”, and Watkinson does not envisage him bowling longer stints when Lancashire open their domestic campaign.
They meet Roses rivals Yorkshire in a one-day and two-day friendly next week, before travelling to Surrey for the first match of the LV County Championship season on April 16.
“He’s fit and strong and when we start the season the week after next I fully expect him to be playing a full part in the games,” added Watkinson.
“The limit when we start the games will be common sense. I see him playing a pretty full-on part against Yorkshire and I don’t think we’ll need to rest him for fixtures, but we’ll be mindful of his workload.
“You’ll probably see him bowling in spells of no longer than five or six overs, and probably won’t bowl more than two and half spells in a day.
“That kind of workload is something he is capable of now, and we have enough bowlers that he doesn’t need to bowl 20 overs in a day.”
While Watkinson is clearly happy with Flintoff’s fitness, as well as his form in the nets, he warned that any possible return to the England side would depend on how he performs with bat and ball in a competitive environment.
“It’s very easy for people to talk about Fred’s ankle, but it’s not just about Freddie being fit,” he cautioned.
“And once his ankle’s better you’ve got a tremendous world-class cricketer.
“We’ve got to remember that to be the world’s leading all-rounder you’ve got to be firing in all departments: batting, bowling and catching.
“His performances on the field will determine how much of an interest England have in bringing him back. He needs to be playing the right sort of cricket to do himself justice.”
Watkinson added: “What Fred has perhaps suffered from while having the ongoing problems with his ankle is he’s not had the time in the middle with the bat in his hand, he’s not had the net preparation and the build-up to a return to cricket
“We’ve not seen him hit the ball as well as he can, but he’s been working on his batting and while he was away in Dubai he played some nice innings for us.
“He’s been working on his batting, his bowling technique, and he’s done all the fielding drills with the rest of the players, so when he starts the season he’s in form in all departments.
“His all-round play and the Freddie package is looking good at the moment.”