Ready, Freddie? No!
Dave Fulton laments Andrew Flintoff's costly involvement in the IPL and questions his Ashes preparations.
Last Updated: 18/08/09 4:28pm
Andrew Flintoff's early return from the IPL with yet another injury is everyone's worst nightmare. I warned against his involvement in the competition before the auction in February, and thought it madness that he was still considering it after his hip injury in the West Indies.
I take no satisfaction for being proved right; like every England fan I desperately want our talismanic all-rounder fit and firing. But as Ricky Ponting and several of his high profile Australian colleagues were making themselves unavailable for the IPL, our leading duo, Flintoff and Kevin Pietersen were having their heads turned by US dollars.
Perhaps it's unfair to ask someone to turn down nearly £200,000 a week. But had Flintoff done what so many England fans wanted him to do and pulled out of the IPL to fully focus on the build up to the Ashes, his status as our most loved sports hero would have been cemented forever thus guaranteeing future commercial earnings. Instead, having picked up another injury, he's in danger of jeopardising the iconic reputation he built in 2005.
When Australia lost the Ashes in 2005 it hurt their players deeply, especially their captain. They went back to the drawing board and resolved to come back stronger. Ponting's men were hell-bent on revenge. From 'boot camps' to fitness sessions to net practices, their focus on the Ashes never wavered. The 5-0 result was as much about passion, hunger and desire as it was about a gulf in class.
One could be forgiven for thinking that England's players and captain ought to have been similarly chastened after the humiliation of 2006-07. I'm sure many of them were. Unwavering focus and preparation for 2009 must surely have been the order of the day. The ECB commissioned the Schofied Report in contrast to the Australian team, who had taken it upon themselves to re-set their course. Change is more a more powerful force when it comes from within a group than when it is imposed from above.
I accept that the Ashes is not the only series of significance that the England team plays. I accept, too that there is a need to embrace one-day cricket more fully and that exposure to competitions like the IPL could help our top players. But we must recognise the repercussions of what happened in 2005. The fact participation in grass roots cricket has risen steeply since that glorious summer and continues to rise is due in no small part to the passion that cricket's oldest contest ignites.
KP and Freddie could have waited a year for the IPL. To lose the Ashes because our key players got their preparation wrong would be unforgiveable.