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Flintoff, who hasn't played in a Test for England since the Ashes tour of Australia in January 2007, had been pencilled in for a recall at Lord's this week, after bowling with extreme pace and accuracy during his comeback for Lancashire this season. He had shrugged off the effects of a fourth bout of ankle surgery, but then sustained a side strain while playing against Durham that ruled him out of the first two Tests of the summer.
In order to play a part in the third Test against New Zealand, which starts on June 5, Flintoff would have to line up for Lancashire against their arch-rivals Yorkshire, during their Championship clash at Headingley on May 28. But Watkinson told The Guardian: "I don't think he'll be back for the Roses match.''
Watkinson doesn't envisage Flintoff playing a four-day fixture until their home match against Nottinghamshire on June 6, which also happens to be the last full-length game before the start of the Twenty20 Cup later that month. That being the case, England might be forced to wait a while longer before allowing Flintoff to resume his 67-Test career.
Watkinson, however, believes that caution is of utmost importance, and said that Lancashire's swift response to his side strain had given Flintoff the best possible chance of coming back to full fitness.
"We nipped what could have been a serious injury in the bud,'' he said. "By acting so quickly, two or three weeks' rest should be enough to cure it. Maybe Fred will be back against Notts, but it is early days. He is taking it easy this week. He needs resting and reassessing.''