West Indies in England, 2007 May 30, 2007

Flintoff to face third ankle operation

Cricinfo staff

Andrew Flintoff: going back under the knife © Getty Images

Andrew Flintoff will be ruled out of the remainder of England's Test series against West Indies, and possibly for the rest of the summer, after the ECB confirmed that he would be undergoing a third bout of surgery on the troublesome left ankle that has dogged his career for the past three years.

Flintoff reported soreness while bowling in the nets on the eve of the Lord's Test earlier this month, and was subsequently ruled out of that game as well as last week's record innings-and-283-run victory against West Indies.

After missing two more county one-day games over the Bank Holiday weekend, it had been hoped that Flintoff would be able to test his fitness in Lancashire's four-day championship match against Sussex at Hove. But when he was ruled out on the morning of the match, the ECB announcement followed soon afterwards.

"Andrew Flintoff has undergone rigorous fitness testing over the past two days, most recently 30 minutes of net bowling on Tuesday, but has reacted to the testing with further discomfort in his left ankle," said the ECB's chief medical officer, Dr Nick Peirce.

"Despite intense conservative treatment and rehabilitation with England and Lancashire's medical teams, Andrew's ankle has continued to cause him discomfort when bowling at full capacity. As a consequence he will undergo an exploratory arthroscopy on his left ankle over the weekend."

Peirce added that the injury was not a recurrence of the bone spur that has twice been removed in surgery - firstly in February 2005, after England's tour of South Africa, and then again in July 2006, ahead of last winter's hectic Ashes and World Cup campaigns.

On the one hand, Peirce believed this was good news, as he felt that the recovery period would be less than the three months out of the game that Flintoff required after his previous surgeries. But on the other, the mystery surrounding the problem merely adds to the sense of unease surrounding Flintoff's future at the highest level of the game. "A comprehensive timescale of rehabilitation will be clearer following the operation," added Peirce.

Flintoff himself was downcast at the news. "Obviously I'm bitterly disappointed to face another operation on my ankle as I really thought I was making progress with the injury over the past few weeks. I've been working really hard on my game and the rest and rehabilitation appeared to be helping the ankle, but after giving it a strong workout this week, it now seems that an operation is the only option.

"Having bounced back from ankle surgery before I know how much work is ahead of me but I'm desperate to get back playing for England and determined to overcome this setback as soon as possible." The first Test against India, which starts at Lord's on July 19, is the most realistic target for his next comeback.

The news will be a blow to the morale of a squad who won handsomely at Headingley, and to the new coach Peter Moores, who cannot mould his new-look England team until he knows just where such a talismanic character fits into it. "I will push the medical team to do the best they possibly can to get him fit enough," he told reporters after the conclusion of the Headingley Test. "Everyone wants a fit Andrew Flintoff."