England in the West Indies 2008-09 February 20, 2009

Injured Flintoff out of fourth Test

Andrew Flintoff will watch the fourth Test from the sidelines © Getty Images

Andrew Flintoff has been ruled out of the fourth Test against West Indies, beginning on February 26 in Barbados, after scans revealed a muscle strain in his right hip. However, he will remain with the squad for the time being and will continue to be assessed regularly by the medical staff.

"I'm very disappointed to be missing the Test," Flintoff said, "but I'll be taking the advice of the England medical team that is out here."

The news is not unexpected after Flintoff bowled in pain for much of the third Test in Antigua, especially on the final day, when he put in three spells as England pushed for a victory which was ultimately denied by West Indies' last pair.

England have flown in two players, fast bowler Amjad Khan and batting allrounder Ravi Bopara, from New Zealand - where they were touring with the England Lions squad - as cover for Flintoff.

Although the England camp are trying to remain positive about this latest problem, with the last two Tests being back-to-back, there have to be serious questions marks as to whether Flintoff will recover in time for the Trinidad Test, which begins on March 6.

Flintoff's absence means England will need someone to replace him with the new ball, and Stuart Broad's performances on the tour have put him in pole position after he stepped into the role at the ARG. "It's a role I have always hunted in an England shirt, both in Test and one-day cricket," Broad said. "I have taken it throughout my county career but it doesn't get handed on a plate. You have to earn it. With Fred out there's a chance to take the new ball and it's one I'd jump at."

Broad also believed England could cope without Flintoff for a Test they must win to retain any chance of taking the series. "During my short career we have played a lot without him," Broad said. "He's a vital cog but the team adapts well without him, you have to. You can't rely on any one player. It's an opportunity for someone else to step up

"It's a massive shame to lose Fred and the balance of the side will have to change. Whether we bring in a batsman or a bowler is up to the hierarchy, but the side is full off confidence after what was a fantastic Test for us. It was disappointing not to win, but we can take a lot of positives from it."

Andy Flower, the interim coach, admitted he had been concerned that Flintoff would do himself more damage as he pushed 90mph during his post-tea burst in Antigua. "I was very concerned about him doing himself lasting damage, but I don't think that is the case luckily," he had said. "Before the day started there was a line that he and [Andrew] Strauss had to walk between using him when we needed him and not doing himself lasting damage."

Strauss, the England captain, also said that Flintoff probably went against medical advice by pushing himself so hard at the ARG. "The doctors' theories were that if he bowled within himself he'd be okay, probably in that spell he wasn't quite within himself," he said. "In those situations you have to trust the player and all credit to him for trying as hard as he could."

This is the second injury setback for Flintoff on this tour after he picked up a side strain before the first warm-up match in St Kitts and was subsequently withdrawn from that game after the first day. He recovered in time for the first Test and sent down 33 overs at Sabina Park despite Strauss's plan to use him more as a strike, rather than stock, bowler.

Following the Test series there is a one-off Twenty20 international followed by five ODIs. Flintoff is due to take part in the IPL for three weeks just a few days after completing the tour. However, this new injury will raise doubts over his availability, given England's summer schedule, which includes a home series against West Indies, the World Twenty20 and the Ashes.

"England is his priority, so we will monitor it closer to the time and it is too early to say 'yay or nay' on that one," Flower had said. "He's a mature adult and he will make any decision along with the ECB."

Andrew McGlashan is a staff writer at Cricinfo