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May 4, 2014
Lancashire have sought to calm speculation that Andrew Flintoff will make an extraordinary comeback for the county in the NatWest T20 Blast this summer but they have not entirely ruled out the possibility that, at 36, he will be seen playing competitive cricket for the first time in nearly five years.
On the day when Old Trafford hosted early X-Factor auditions, cynical observers may conclude that the merest hint of Flintoff's return would do no harm to Lancashire's marketing plans as England's Twenty20 completion is relaunched as predominantly a Friday evening tournament over much of this summer.
Yet it was really was Flintoff, the former England all-rounder, batting and bowling in Old Trafford's outdoor nets on Sunday afternoon perhaps - just perhaps - suggesting that the rumour of a possible return was more than merely an advertising ploy.
It is almost impossible to believe that Flintoff would be anything like ready to play in Lancashire's early T20 matches - the county's programme begins a week on Friday - and it is surely much more likely that he will turn out for his old club St Annes in their 20-over matches and see how he feels then. Very tired, probably.
He sent a message to St Annes through his grandfather in April that he might fancy a hit in Twenty20 and the club registered him just in case.
Paul Allott, the former England bowler and Sky TV commentator, who is a member of Lancashire's seven-man board, was careful to downplay the prospect of Flintoff playing for Lancashire again after a story that the county wanted him to do so appeared in a Sunday newspaper.
"Andrew has been mentoring the Academy players and he has been helping Kyle Hogg," said Allott. "We haven't asked him to come back and he hasn't come to us saying that he wants to play. He has been more than useful helping the other lads.
"He has been voluntarily around the group and we are more than pleased to have him around. Whether it comes to anything more than that, who knows?"
It was the "who knows?" that left just a glimmer of hope for Flintoff fans.
Flintoff has not played competitive cricket since the Oval Test against Australia in 2009, when he famously bade farewell to international cricket by running out Ricky Ponting and has forged a TV career as a worldwide explorer and adventurer.
Soon after that his final game he had surgery on his left knee and he also needed shoulder reconstruction after winning a heavyweight boxing match in December 2012.
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