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Graveney hopeful for Flintoff

Investec Test Series
Andrew Flintoff

Andrew Flintoff is a big part of England's plans in all cricket

England remain confident they will welcome back Andrew Flintoff as a fully-fledged international all-rounder when he completes his recovery from further ankle surgery.

The strain of performing with bat and ball at the highest level has told on the 29-year-old Lancastrian, who underwent his third operation on his left ankle in only three years on Friday and is expected to be sidelined for most of the summer.

The physical demands of his role in the modern age have left questions over his capability to perform as an all-rounder at both Test and one-day international level.

It has been suggested Flintoff may even consider putting himself forward for selection as just a batsman in one-day cricket to reduce the strain on his ankle.

But chairman of selectors David Graveney, who announced an unchanged 11 for next week's third npower Test against West Indies at Old Trafford, remains optimistic England will be able to call upon Flintoff as an all-rounder as soon as he completes his rehabilitation.

David Graveney

David Graveney is keen to look at every option © Getty Images

Graveney stressed: "It's an interesting theory, but as far as we're concerned Freddie is injured and has a number of weeks to get over this operation but when he comes back we would anticipate him taking part in all forms of cricket whether it is one-day or Test matches.

"There has been a lot of speculation about whether Freddie will continue in the role he has been as one of the leading all-rounders in world cricket, but we believe he'll be playing a full part for England before the end of the summer."

With Flintoff sidelined indefinitely and Matthew Hoggard unable to shrug off the thigh strain which has ruled him out since the drawn first Test at Lord's, England's selectors were not given many options for change even if they had considered it following last week's innings victory at Headingley.

Emerging Leicestershire fast bowler Stuart Broad and Lancashire's Sajid Mahmood - two possible candidates for the squad - are also injured, although England have taken the precaution of putting James Anderson on standby for any last minute injuries or illnesses.

Anderson, who has not featured in a Test for England this summer, will start Lancashire's LV County Championship match at Durham next Wednesday before travelling back to Manchester to be with the rest of the squad should he be required for the Test the following morning.

England remain hopeful Hoggard may be fit for the final Test of the npower series at Chester-le-Street, which starts on June 15, but with Ryan Sidebottom seizing his opportunity superbly at Headingley with an eight-wicket haul, there is no need for any rush.

Matthew Hoggard

England are hopeful Matthew Hoggard will be fit for the fourth Test © Getty Images

"Matthew has worked hard to overcome the injury, but ultimately time was against him," confirmed Graveney.

"We're prepared to give him as long as he needs to ensure the injury does not become a longer-term problem. We are hopeful that with further rehabilitation he will come into calculations for the fourth Test in Durham."

Ultimately, though, England's big concern is over Flintoff as their most consistent bowler and someone who, when in form, balances the side superbly with his mixture of fast and accurate bowling and counter-attacking strokeplay.

He faces a long road back of hard work and rehabilitation before he is ready to pull on his beloved England sweater again, but Graveney believes Flintoff need look no further than Michael Vaughan for inspiration.

England captain Vaughan was out for over a year with knee problems and was written off regularly, but made a glorious return at Headingley to score a defiant century and lead England to an emphatic triumph.

"Freddie had his operation on Friday and there is nothing they found there which they weren't expecting, although there's some debris in his ankle," said Graveney.

"It's desperately bad news for Freddie because rehabilitation on your own week after week after week isn't easy, but the one example he can draw from is the way Michael Vaughan has come back from probably a far more serious injury than the one Freddie has."

He added: "Matthew Hoggard and Andrew Flintoff would have been different options for us but they are both injured, so as selectors we'll have a good situation later this summer.

"As selectors we'll have some very difficult decisions to make, but they'll be the right sort of decisions where we have an increasingly pool of players to choose from."

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