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Last Updated: Thursday, 20 January 2005, 13:20 GMT
Should he stay or should he go?

By Rob Hodgetts
BBC Sport

Andrew Flintoff
Short-term gain or possible long-term pain - that's the dilemma England face over their talismanic all-rounder Andrew Flintoff.

The 27-year-old is troubled again by a bone spur on his left ankle and will play the final Test against South Africa with the help of cortisone injections.

But England's management, and Flintoff himself, must then decide on what could become a career-defining course of action.

Does the Lancastrian opt for a permanent fix and return home for surgery?

KNOW YOUR BONE SPURS
Spur is extra bit of new bone formation
Flintoff's probably caused by biomechanics of his bowling action
Twice his bodyweight passes through his left ankle on delivery
Achilles tendon under immense strain trying to decelerate foot as it slams into ground
Traction on Achilles leads to growth of extra bone in heel as body tries to protect itself
Soft tissues between bone and the spur get trapped and become painful and inflamed
Cortisone injection reduces inflammation and pain
Injection manages symptoms but does not solve cause
Operation to trim spur simple but recovery time 12-16 weeks
Or does he struggle through the seven-match one-day series against the Proteas with pain-killing and anti-inflammatory injections and put off an operation until absolutely necessary?

The former course would see Flintoff in plaster for one month - but plaster-free in time for his wedding in March - and out of cricket for about four months.

All being well, he should then be ready and raring to face Australia in the first Ashes Test in July, which incidentally would be his first ever Test against the old enemy.

The latter could risk more long-lasting damage and an uncertain future, a gamble which could jump up and bite England at any time.

Flintoff's injury - a result of his bowling action, which sees him stamp down hard on his left foot - caused him problems last summer and the management faced the same dilemma then.

A short-term fix paid dividends at the time but the injections don't remove the problem.

And last July, Peter Gregory, chief medical officer of the England and Wales Cricket Board, described the jabs as "not without risk".

So England and Flintoff find themselves at the same crossroads, and coach Duncan Fletcher admits it is a difficult decision.

"Long term he's going to have to speak to people to see whether it's necessary to have an operation," said Fletcher.

"Some people say no, some people say you have to have it at some stage. It's a very, very difficult decision he's got to make."

Flintoff's role for England is crucial, a frontline bowler and vital middle-order batsmen, whose charisma and aggression will be much-needed against Australia.

FLINTOFF FACTFILE
Tests: 44
Batting: 2148 runs (av. 31.58)
Bowling: 101 wickets (av. 35.66)

ODIs: 80
Batting: 2111 runs (av. 35.18)
Bowling: 82 wickets (av. 23.97)

His powerful hitting makes him a key one-day player too, though, with an average of 35.18 from 80 one-day internationals and 82 wickets at an average of 23.97.

Flintoff has had a modest series with the bat in South Africa, with only 136 runs at an average of 19.42, but he is England's second best wicket-taker with 17 to Matthew Hoggard's 24.

And England will be hoping a firing Flintoff can help them become only the second team after Australia to win a Test series in South Africa since their re-admission to the international stage.

Fletcher added: "Having chatted to Kirk [physio Kirk Russell] we will have to see how things go in the next few days.

"From there I have to make a decision. It might be they say he can play for the next two or three years.

"He could play now and have a gap later on [to have the operation]. We are looking for the best decision."

So if surgery is advised, the conundrum would seem to boil down to one key question: is the one-day series against South Africa more important than the Ashes?

It does not take a genius to work out which one most people would pick.





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