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Andrew Flintoff has admitted he feared his England days were over last year when he was limping through the one-day series against India and the ICC World Twenty20. Dosed up on painkillers and bowling on one leg, he started to wonder whether he would have to cut short his career.
Although his ankle stood up well in the early stages of the season, when he bowled some quick spells for Lancashire, he is again recovering from another injury, this time a side strain. He is now aiming to return against South Africa in July, 18 months after his last Test against Australia in Sydney.
In an open and honest interview with the Mail on Sunday, Flintoff says he knew he had major problems when his ankle was still causing him trouble after his third operation last June. He was patched up and went to South Africa for the Twenty20, but it was a desperate decision for Flintoff because he thought he may never get another chance.
"I'd had a third operation on my ankle last June, which forced me to miss both the Test series against West Indies and India," he said. "Even though I came back for the one-day series against India, it didn't take long to realise I was struggling. I played a couple of matches, missed a couple, got myself drugged up with painkillers and just about got through, but I knew it was bad.
"The decision for me to go to the World Twenty20 in South Africa in September was based on the reasoning I couldn't do myself any more harm and that either I would be able to bowl through the pain or the ankle would give way completely.
"Also in my thinking was the possibility that I just might not get another chance to take part in this kind of tournament again. In the event I was pretty much bowling on one leg, relying on my shoulder and maybe even a bent arm at times and the realisation grew in me that, if this was as good as it was going to get, it wasn't enough."
Flintoff watched some of the second Test against New Zealand at Old Trafford last week, but found it tough to be around his team-mates when he was unable to take part in the match. "I went into the dressing room and enjoyed chatting with the lads but it was tough because I wanted so much to be part of it and I wasn't," he said.
He also spoke about the 2006-07 winter, when he captained England during their 5-0 Ashes whitewash, and the World Cup campaign which included him being dropped for a match after the 'Fredalo' incident in St Lucia. However, Flintoff now wants to look forward and believes he still has plenty to offer.
"I've gone through the bad times, now I want the good times again, the feeling I got from playing in a successful England team because I believe my best years are ahead of me. I'm not just saying that, either."