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Wednesday, 27 September, 2000, 09:31 GMT 10:31 UK
Flintoff's new regime
It is perhaps not too unkind to suggest that Andrew Flintoff is built more like a rugby league player than a cricketer.
So it comes as no surprise that he turned to former Great Britain international Steve Hampson to help him improve his fitness prior to England's winter touring programme.
Still only 22, Flintoff has already made plenty of headlines but far too many of them, from his point of view, have been concerned with a his weight and injury problems.
Persistent back trouble cost him his place in the England side during the summer and there were claims that he had been ordered to lose weight by team management after topping the 17st mark.
More back page exposure followed over a night out drinking two days before Lancashire's NatWest Trophy semi-final match against Gloucestershire.
The mounting pressure prompted an angry response from both Flintoff and his agent Andrew Chandler, the latter quoted as saying: "I've given up on the England management. It's like dealing with hooligans.
"There certainly doesn't seem to be any clear planning or strategy when it comes to Andrew."
The selectors are well aware, however, that Flintoff is a diamond in the rough and there was never any likelihood, however, that Flintoff would be overlooked for the winter trips to Kenya, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, assuming his level of fitness was good enough.
He opted for a new surgical procedure to numb the nerves in the area of his back which has caused all the problems, after 10 cortisone injections over the last four years failed to do the trick.
Flintoff's next step was to link up with Hampson for a demanding training programme, which involved him in working out in the gym every day and following a new diet.
"I just want to get back to playing cricket again. I feel fitter and stronger than I have for a long time and I am confident I can do everything England ask of me this winter," he said.
The all-rounder remains bemused by his rough treatment during the summer.
"I got a lot of stick and I didn't really know where it came from. I wasn't playing particularly well and I probably didn't deserve my place in the side at that point and if the criticism had been about my form I could have accepted it - what I could'nt understand were the personal attacks on me."
He added: "Half-way through the summer my form took a big dip which may have been a result of all the publicity, which did bother me and hurt my friends and family.
"It got to such a stage that it was starting to prey on my mind and I was worrying about it all the time. I was given a back support to wear, but was worried about wearing it because it made me look bigger and now I'm just trying to put all that behind me and concentrate on cricket."
Flintoff has only reached 50 once in nine Test and 15 one-day international appearances, but some of England's past greats are in no doubt about his potential - which he underlined with a Botham-like 135 not out in the NatWest Trophy quarter-finals against Surrey in July.
"He is very similar to Beefy. They both have the ability to turn a game on its head in no time at all" was the verdict of John Emburey.
And former England all-rounder Trevor Bailey said: "If you can go out and bat like that, it doesn't matter if you are eight stone or 28 stone."
Flintoff is keeping his fingers crossed that the new treatment on his back will work and has ruled out any future cortisone jabs.
He is frustrated at missing out on the euphoria which followed England's 3-1 win over West Indies, their first Test series triumph against the men from the Caribbean for 31 years, and accepts he will start the tour as a supporting player.
"I probably won't start as first-choice in the side, which I accept because Craig White has done wonderfully well.
"Dominic Cork has also done well coming back in and I don't expect to get into the side straight away. It's a challenge for me and I want to get back involved."
He is still learning at international level but, for England supporters, seeing Flintoff fulfil his potential would be well worth the weight.
12 Aug 00 | Cricket
England work on Flintoff cure
27 Jul 00 | NatWest Trophy
Lancs urge Flintoff recall
26 Jul 00 | NatWest Trophy
Flintoff ton crushes Surrey
19 Jul 00 | SOL
Duo get new fitness warning
11 Jul 00 | Cricket
Flintoff strikes back at critics
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