England v India, 3rd ODI, Edgbaston August 26, 2007

England cautious on Flintoff return

Andrew Flintoff didn't appear in too much pain while batting but didn't look entirely at ease either © Getty Images

To Fred or not to Fred? That's England's question before the third one-dayer at Edgbaston. Barely had Andrew Flintoff returned to international cricket than his ankle, and now knee, are causing problems. Peter Moores, England's coach, made optimistic noises about the chances of him playing tomorrow but added they would take the long-term plans into the equation.

The latest issue relates to an irritation and inflammation inside the right knee joint. He recently underwent an ankle surgery, on his left leg, and expectedly Flintoff didn't bowl at the nets this morning. A massage on his ankle and some hopping exercises on the wobble-ball were followed by a batting session against both spin and pace. He didn't appear in too much pain while batting but didn't look entirely at ease either.

"He's very keen to play," said Moores after the practice session. "He's missed a lot of cricket and wants to go out there but we need to balance it over a long series. They [the medical staff] have looked at the injury and there's no major concern with it long term. If we know there's no risk of him playing, we'll take it. If we think it's more sensible to miss a game than carry on after, we'll do that. We'll see in the morning, if it's settled down, if the swelling is gone ..."

India will no doubt be lifted by his absence and Mahendra Singh Dhoni, their vice-captain, said as much. "He's a kind of player who always has an impact on the game - the perfect allrounder. He comes in as a third seamer during the field restrictions, then bowls three overs in the middle and comes back at the death. If he's not playing I think the England team will be slightly on the back foot."

Ultimately, as Moores himself admitted, it may come down to Flintoff himself. "It's a very tough decision. He's played a lot of cricket, he knows his body. You trust a player to a degree and then take all opinions or whatever. He is keen to play but also knows what's there to come. And he doesn't want to miss out on that. So between Fred, myself and the medical team we'll have to work it out."

The anti-inflammatory injection was a precautionary measure, said Moores, going on to explain the sequence of events. "He had a little bit of pain after the first game. Nothing major, a little bit of soreness. Afterwards he stiffened up and was sore in the night. It's sensible to get it checked out, doesn't seem to be any major structural thing.

"He saw the specialist and he said, 'It looks ok'. It's a bit of precaution measure which Fred was happy with. It would settle it down quickly. The physio seems to think it's all gone very well. Everything's positive today but we'll have to wait and see tomorrow."

The tone seems to be one of guarded optimism. England have already called up Jon Lewis as a back-up bowling option and there's Owais Shah for batting cover. Flintoff, though, is irreplaceable and England's decision in the morning could well make the final difference.

Siddhartha Vaidyanathan is assistant editor of Cricinfo