Counties need to embrace feelgood factor
Andrew Flintoff was drained emotionally and physically as he shook hands with the Australians at Old Trafford after another epic Test match. He has bowled more overs than any other England bowler in the series to date and has never once considered throttling back to conserve his energy - or more importantly his body. Flintoff is not alone; each member of the team strained every sinew for their country.
It is, therefore, disappointing to hear comments emanating from the counties about the withdrawal of England's players from this weekend's Cheltenham & Gloucester semi-finals. Jack Simmons, the Lancashire chairman, is reportedly angry that he had to phone an ECB official to find the reasons why Flintoff would not be appearing against Warwickshire at Edgbaston. I would have thought the reasons were blatantly obvious - the last thing Flintoff needs is a domestic semi-final when the prospect of two career-defining Test matches are on the horizon.
The comments from within Lancashire leave a particularly sour taste. Have they already forgotten the unprecedented scenes of Monday when they were turning people away from Old Trafford in the thousands, having benefited from that increasingly rare of species - a five-day Test? The 21,000 people who crammed into Old Trafford on all five days will have also used all the facilities at the ground. By all accounts the club shop did roaring trade and if the singing and dancing in the crowds is any indication beer sales were not slow either. Now they are complaining that possibly the single biggest reason for England's (and Lancashire's) success in that match - namely Flintoff - won't be available to them.
Simmons's comments ignore the fundamental issue behind cricket's remarkable resurgence this season. Unlike football, where club success drives the financial health of the game, cricket relies almost exclusively on the success of the national side. The counties had seemingly been coming around to that way of thinking until, in the middle of England's most important Test series in 20 years, they decided to pipe up about the injustices of key players being given a week off.
When the England team is on the up so is the rest of the game, but some counties are still doing their best to keep a lid on the excitement. On Monday it was £10 for adults and £5 for children to watch one of the great days of Test cricket. On Tuesday it was £15 per adult to get into Old Trafford to watch the first day of the Roses match. David Lloyd likes to call it "a private battle" and the best efforts are being made to keep it this way.
Lancashire against Yorkshire (or any county match for that matter) may not have the drama of an Ashes battle but the time has come to throw the gates of cricket grounds around the country open to all comers. I'm not suggesting 21,000 will flood through the turnstiles but if a handful of the people who were gripped by Monday's finale are encouraged to return at the prospect of a free day at the cricket, then the opportunity must be grasped.
The counties' current gripe is not that the players have been rested, more the manner in which the England management relayed the news. Even then, their arguments don't carry much weight. Simmons claims he found out via email that Flintoff would not be at Edgbaston and is not convinced at the ECB's line that he picked up a niggle during the Tests. But surely he can understand that the nine days between Old Trafford and Trent Bridge are of vital importance to the players, who need to get their minds and bodies back in shape. Some will say that Flintoff is just as likely to slip by his hotel pool in France as he would be to tweak a muscle against Warwickshire, but this break is as much a time not to think about cricket as it is not to play.
Cricket is historically slow at grasping the nettle but nobody could have escaped the buzz around the nation. Alas, it seems, the counties are still wearing their blinkers. The English domestic scene is still a fairly unique establishment in that it always wants to look after No. 1. However, if there was ever a time to concede all to the national cause, this is it.
Andrew McGlashan is editorial assistant of Cricinfo