Steve Harmison, the England fast bowler, has become the first of their current Test players to speak out in defence of Andrew Flintoff following last week's revelations from the former coach, Duncan Fletcher, in his autobiography, Behind the Shades.

Harmison, Flintoff's closest friend in the game, says Fletcher "might lose a few people he once called friend" and attacked him for not tackling Flintoff's drinking in Australia himself.

"As England cricketers, we are together on tour and at home, living with, eating and breathing the same air for weeks and sometimes months at a time," Harmison said in an interview with the Mail on Sunday. "In order for that to work there are certain things you all depend on - honesty, loyalty, being able to rely on your team-mates and trust.

"And the most important of these is trust; the confidence that you do not have to question the motives of the bloke next to you, the feeling that you are all in it together and the knowledge that whatever is said or done within the team environment stays there.

"You have to be able to express yourself honestly and without restraint, without wondering whether someone is going to spill the beans or reveal all in a book. And the bloke with the greatest responsibility is the coach because he is privy to everything that goes on. I'm not disputing that some of the things Andrew did were wrong.

"I will defend him to the hilt on many issues but he accepts that some of the things he did were not acceptable within a team environment. He definitely overstepped the line in the pedalo incident. He let himself and his team-mates down but took his punishment, was wheeled out to be ridiculed and resolved to learn from the experience.

"How is Fletcher dragging up ancient history now helping Fred? Is it taking the argument forward? No."

He added: "If Fletcher had a big problem with Freddie's drinking in Australia, why on earth didn't he do something about it? As coach it was his decision. His call. He had the chance to act but he says he didn't take action against Fred that day in Sydney because of how the press might have reacted.

"Well some might ask if he wasn't prepared to do something he clearly felt was right for the side because it might turn out to be unpopular, what was he doing in the job in the first place?"

Harmison was particularly aggrieved at the revelations given that it was Fletcher who gave him so much support and guidance as a younger man.

"The sadness is that Fletcher was a very good coach who did a lot for our game," he said. "But the picture he paints of Freddie is unfair and one-sided. He's said nothing about what a positive force Fred is within the dressing room, which to me, says it all.

"For someone to be able to justify doing what Fletcher has done they would have to have a very good reason. If not, it's just telling tales out of school. Fletcher took me from a young player to someone who has won 50-odd Test caps. And l admit I've given him a lot of problems to deal with. So it's disappointing that my relationship with him should end on such a sour note.

"Fred's pride will have been dented but no one in the England team will think any less of him because of what Fletcher has said. On the other hand, Fletcher might lose a few people he once called friend."