Vithushan Ehantharajah is an associate editor at ESPNcricinfo
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Flintoff and Swann, regarded as two of the country's most talismanic cricketers, were both in attendance at Loughborough on Thursday, working with the 20-strong playing group that will fly out on November 17 for a three-week trip, primarily focussing on red-ball skills. It is a distinctly green-tinged party, with 10 players involved in the programme for the first time, and skewed towards spinners and all-rounders, making the presence of the two modern greats in those roles all the more valuable.
Both Flintoff and Swann have been involved with the England pathway over the last 12 months. Flintoff recently completed an unpaid stint with the ODI squad during their series against Ireland, presenting fellow Lancastrian Tom Hartley with his maiden international cap in Nottingham. The series was Flintoff's first public appearance since a serious car crash while filming an episode of Top Gear last December. He has since been compensated a reported £9 million by the BBC.
The hero of the 2005 Ashes, who scored 3,845 runs and took 226 wickets across 79 Tests, has also worked with the Under-19s, and attended Ashes Tests during the 2023 summer alongside close friend Rob Key, England's managing director. Key has been integral to Flintoff's return to the game.
Swann, who retired in 2013 as England's leading off-spinner with 255 dismissals at an average of 29.96, accompanied the corresponding Lions tour in 2022. He was subsequently drafted as a coach for their tour of Sri Lanka at the start of this year. His input, both around spin and tactics, was such that the ECB have been keen to get him more involved between his existing commitments as a commentator and spin coach of Trent Rockets in the men's Hundred.
The pair will assist a coaching team headed by men's elite bowling coach Neil Kileen, alongside Jim Troughton (Surrey) and Paul Tweddle (Somerset). Performance director Mo Bobat, who will be in the UAE for the duration of the trip ahead of leaving the ECB in February to take up a director of cricket post at Royal Challengers Bangalore, lauded the continued involvement of Flintoff and Swann.
"He's got a huge passion for helping people," Bobat said of Flintoff. "He is going through a bit of a journey himself. He wants to give back to the game. He has a lot to offer, and there is a lot of energy and enthusiasm from him, and we have a desire to get him involved. It's not often you get players of his calibre and experience wanting to get involved as proactively as he does. You have to really take that seriously.
"We got him around the U19s, and he was brilliant with them. We got him around the England lads, which I know Jos [Buttler] and Motty [white-ball head coach Matthew Mott] really enjoyed. I started speaking to him in the summer, saying I'd love you to come on this camp, and he said he'd love to.
"At the moment, we have agreed that he will come for the whole camp, but he's in demand and we will see. He also has a few medical things he is still working through which we have to be respectful of. The plan is that he's there for the full camp.
"We had Swanny with us last winter and he was amazing. He was even better than I thought he was going to be around the group - brilliant tactically, brilliant mentoring the spinners, great for the captains. He's trying to bring that into the environment, and I'm sure Fred will be similar from what I've experienced of him so far from this summer."
Test players not involved in the ODI World Cup will also feature. Seamers James Anderson and Ollie Robinson will drop in, while wicketkeeper Ben Foakes, who was dropped this summer, will be with the Lions for the duration until December 7. Ollie Pope (shoulder) and Jack Leach (back) will also travel out to continue their rehabilitation from injuries sustained last season. Brendon McCullum will also be in attendance for a portion of the tour, accompanied by a handful of Test coaches along with Key, and will work separately with the Test group while he is out there.
It will also be an opportunity for McCullum to run the rule over some of the Lions contingent ahead of the five-match series in India which commences in January. While quicks Matthew Potts and Josh Tongue and legspinner Rehan Ahmed are known quantities as far as Test cricket is concerned, it could present an opportunity for Hartley to impress.
The tall left-arm spinner has been earmarked for this Test tour and, at the very least, will be in India on a Lions tour due to run parallel with the main event. That particular group will feature more senior fringe players playing a two-day warm-up followed by three four-day matches against India A - ideally first-class - pending confirmation from the BCCI.
It is also likely some players will be pulled away from the Lions training camp for the white-ball tour of West Indies, which begins on December 3. England's dire performance in the ongoing World Cup has put the onus on using the eight-match tour - three ODIs and five T20Is - as a chance to blood the next generation.
Rehan, Potts, Tongue, Hartley and Hampshire's young quick John Turner could be in contention. Brydon Carse, who has not featured for England since being drafted into the World Cup squad as an injury replacement for Reece Topley, has been stood down from attending the UAE camp, given what lies ahead.