Mon, Jul 24, 2006 - Page 18 News List

Flintoff ruled out of cricket for 12 weeks

AFP , LONDON

Former England captain Michael Atherton fears history is in danger of repeating itself after Andrew Flintoff was ruled out for 12 weeks on Saturday with a recurring ankle problem.

The hero of England's Ashes-winning triumph last year is due to have surgery on his left ankle next week after an attempt at a comeback ended with him leaving the field after bowling just two overs against Kent on Friday.

England had hoped rest and rehabilitation would be the answer to a problem that had its origins in bone fragments left in Flintoff's left ankle from an operation at the beginning of last year.

But the man the selectors want to captain the team in Australia now faces a spell on the sidelines which could leave him desperately short of match practice before November's first Ashes Test in Brisbane.

For Atherton, a former Lancashire team mate of Flintoff, the situation has worrying echoes of England's last tour of Australia in 2002/2003.

Back then England arrived with several players -- including Flintoff, Darren Gough, Simon Jones and Marcus Trescothick -- who were not fully fit.

Australia went on to retain the Ashes in a mere 11 days' playing time and won the series 4-1.

"It was a shambolic start to England's last Ashes tour and, on the back of that, the selectors were very clear when they said, `We will not do this again, we will not take players who are not fully match fit,'" Atherton told Sky Sports.

"But they are going to be faced with this situation with Andrew Flintoff, that here's a guy who's played minimal cricket for the best part of eight or nine months, but a guy they want to captain out there [Australia]," he said.

"It's going to be an interesting question because he's going to be getting on that plane without any knowledge really that he's fully match fit," Atherton said.

"Going back to what happened four years ago that is exactly the situation the selectors were keen to avoid again," he said.

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