Flintoff on upward curve
It is unquestionably the most famous joint in cricket.
Andrew Flintoff’s left ankle occupied the thoughts of the nation long before he underwent surgery for a fourth time last October.
But the attention lavished on this particular collection of muscle, bone and cartilage has reached unprecedented levels since he launched his latest comeback.
A pre-season tour to Dubai that would barely have merited a mention outside Lancashire became headline news by virtue of Flintoff’s presence.
That he was denied valuable match practice was the major talking point after the friendly against Yorkshire was washed out.
And coverage of Flintoff’s return to competitive action in the LV County Championship clash with Surrey last week often bore more resemblance to daily medical updates than match reports.
Thus it is surely in the public interest to provide the latest instalment in the story of Flintoff’s battle back to fitness.
Fortunately, it is never a chore to watch Flintoff bowl. Indeed, there can have been few more heart-warming sights than seeing England’s premier all-rounder steaming in from the Stretford End on a sun-drenched day at Old Trafford.
The scorecard will tell you he took two wickets at a cost of 40 runs from 16 overs, with Peter Trego and Craig Kieswetter his victims.
But it makes no reference to the fact that the two spells he bowled, of eight overs each, were the longest he has managed since making his comeback.
Nor does it show that Flintoff had two catches put down off his bowling, Marcus Trescothick reprieved by Brad Hodge and Simon Marshall.
And it certainly does not reflect the pace Flintoff generated on a day which Lancashire ended 178 runs in arrears with a full complement of first-innings wickets intact.
As Flintoff has said himself, his action tends to look after itself, and within moments of being introduced into the attack he had found his natural length, forcing the batsman on to the back foot while offering the minimum of width.
His follow-through was extensive – exaggerated even at times – and the manner in which he strode purposefully back to his mark suggested his ankle could not have been any further back in his mind.
Such was Flintoff’s impressive showing, those spectators for whom his injury has passed by without notice – if any exist – could have been forgiven for wondering which member of the Lancashire side was in the midst of a rehabilitation programme.
While the home crowd revelled in a rare appearance of their favourite son, so the England selectors can take considerable heart from Flintoff’s seemingly smooth recovery.
He reported no ill effects to sending down 28 overs at the Brit Oval last week, and it will not have gone unnoticed by Peter Moores, Geoff Miller and company that his workload was greater than any other player on the opening day of this encounter with Somerset.
Flintoff has made no secret of his desire to feature in the first npower Test against New Zealand, which starts on May 15, while England captain Michael Vaughan is understandably keen to welcome him back into the fold.
Trescothick vouched for Flintoff’s return to form and fitness at the close of play, although he pointed out that the selectors may need convincing through weight of runs as well as wickets.