Michael Atherton said the fact England star Andrew Flintoff was in the news for missing the team bus during a squad weekend away was an unwanted “distraction” ahead of the Ashes.
Flintoff, 31, joining up with the squad for the first time after several months out with a knee injury, missed the team bus for Saturday’s visit to the World War One trenches at Ypres in Belgium.
“Andrew Flintoff is back and the talk, once again, is not of cricket but of discipline, timekeeping and alcohol,” former England captain Atherton, now cricket correspondent of the Times, wrote of his fellow Lancastrian in yesterday’s edition of the British daily.
“It is a distraction that nobody needs right now, in the week before the Ashes,” he wrote.
It was not the first time Flintoff had courted controversy for his behavior.
During the 2007 World Cup he was dropped from the England side as punishment for an alcohol-fuelled night which ended with him capsizing a pedalo in the early hours of the morning in St Lucia.
Prior to that Flintoff was sent away from training by then coach Duncan Fletcher after turning up to a practice session the worse for wear in Australia.
Atherton said this latest incident had placed Hugh Morris, the managing director of England cricket, in a tricky position as he batted away questions as to whether Flintoff had been drinking the night before missing the bus.
“If it does emerge that Flintoff was drinking, Morris will be made to look both foolish and economical with the truth,” Atherton wrote.
He was also unimpressed by current England captain Andrew Strauss’ comment on Tuesday that Flintoff was not alone among the squad in having problems with time-keeping.
“It makes England sound not like the national team made up of heroes but a team full of adolescents who cannot manage themselves properly,” Atherton wrote.
He said the whole incident would cast a cloud over England’s Ashes warm-up match against Warwickshire at Edgbaston which started yesterday.
Atherton also added that Flintoff, the star of England’s 2005 Ashes triumph, risked putting himself on a collision course with Andy Flower, the head coach.
“Flower, too, will be aware that Duncan Fletcher’s authority was eroded to damaging effect after his failure to discipline Flintoff during the previous Ashes tour,” he wrote.
“Flower will not want to make that mistake — and Flintoff should be careful because Flower is no soft touch,” the former England skipper wrote.
Atherton though said this latest incident would soon be forgotten if Flintoff, who famously let his hair down after the 2005 series win, helped England regain the Ashes.
“Does it matter at all? That all depends on results,” he wrote.