England's captain, Andrew Strauss, has admitted that timekeeping has become an issue among certain members of the squad, after Andrew Flintoff had to be reprimanded by the ECB for a breach of discipline during the team bonding session in Belgium ahead of the Ashes.
Flintoff failed to make the journey to the trenches near Ypres on Saturday morning after missing the team bus, having attended a private team dinner the night before, and on the eve of England's warm-up fixture against Warwickshire at Edgbaston, Strauss conceded that the squad had some issues that needed to be ironed out.
"We can confirm Andrew did miss the team bus and the matter has been dealt with internally with what is considered an appropriate response," said an England spokesman. The trip had been intended to honour the soldiers who died during World War I, part of the services to commemorate Armed Forces Day.
"He was very aware he's stuffed up," said England's captain, Andrew Strauss. "He's taken it on the chin, and apologised sincerely. In fact, punctuality has been a bit of an issue recently with a few players, so it's something we're trying to iron out, and we have taken steps to make sure it doesn't happen again. Fred accepts he made a mistake, the appropriate action has been taken, and we move forward."
This is not the first time that Flintoff has been in the spotlight for his off-field activities. He lost the vice-captaincy of the one-day team after his infamous encounter with a pedalo in St Lucia during the 2007 World Cup. During the 2006-07 Ashes tour, Flintoff turned up for practice ahead of a one-day match the worse for wear from the previous evening.
"Of course there have been instances with Fred before, but it would be completely wrong for us to start looking back on that," said Strauss. "He's massively excited about being back in the squad, and he feels bad about missing the bus, and bad about this becoming an issue, but we all know that if he's playing well in the side he's a massive asset."
Flintoff, who is likely to return to the England side after sitting out five months due to a knee injury, did at least attend a team meeting later on Saturday after managing to catch up with his team-mates in his own time. But the incident follows hot on the heels of Australia's decision to send home their own allrounder, Andrew Symonds, from the World Twenty20 for repeated transgressions, particularly in relation to alcohol.
Strauss insisted that England would be strong enough to take similar action if required, even against a player of Flintoff's standing, but he was adamant that such measures would not be required. "It's got to be an option with anyone who transgresses badly enough, but I'm absolutely certain it's not going to come to that, and it'll be a sad day for cricket if it comes to that.
Earlier this season, the Nottinghamshire allrounder, Samit Patel, was dropped from England's one-day squads for failing to meet the necessary fitness requirements, but Strauss insisted that England didn't operate with one rule for one and one for another.
"We need to have consistency," he added. "We treat people like adults - that is fundamental to my captaincy - so it's up to Fred what he does. He's been out of the side for a while, with a lot of injuries, and he's desperate to come in and do well in the Ashes.
"It's vitally important to a team functioning properly that everyone is treated the same. Fred's been working very hard … he generally recognises when the times are to drink and when not to drink.
"He missed the bus, but he took a full part in the rest of the day's activities and he seemed absolutely fine," said Strauss. "We had a team dinner, alcohol wasn't banned, but there's no reason to suspect that anything massively untoward happened."