Cricket: Andrew Flintoff bats away critics and aims for new heights

ANDREW Flintoff is still confident he can return this season at least as good a cricketer as he ever was.

If the Ashes-winning all-rounder did not believe that, he would not even continue to try to make another comeback in a famous career which has been interrupted so often by injury lay-offs.

It is an arduous road already well trodden several times by the 32-year-old, who is still hoping to be back in the middle by late-July or August following two operations on his left knee since helping England clinch the Ashes at the Oval in the last of his 79 Tests almost eight months ago.

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Flintoff joined the rest of the Lancashire playing staff at Old Trafford yesterday, but will be back in Dubai by the end of this week until the medical experts give him the all-clear to step up his bid for match fitness.

His Middle East home appears to be a help as he continues his recovery, several thousand miles away from the inevitable conjecture over whether he will play again at all or perhaps even be able to realise his ambition of adding significantly to his 148 limited-overs caps for his country.

Only yesterday morning, Ian Botham described Flintoff as "not exactly twinkle-toes" as he questioned his fellow all-rounder's capacity to fight his way back again.

Flintoff is not listening to such remarks. "Where I'm living at the moment, I'm blissfully unaware of what people are saying," he said. "The one thing I'm trying to get fit for is to play cricket. That's something I'm desperately trying to do."

Flintoff is nonetheless notably equivocal about his prospects of returning for England – his stated intent throughout.

He admits, too, he has allowed thoughts of permanent retirement from all forms of cricket to cross his mind, but remains resolved to do all he can first to regain his fitness. "Before every operation, it does cross your mind," he said. "But I've always said that while I feel I can play I will do – if I feel I can play as well as I did before I was injured then I'll carry on."

&149 Cricket Scotland's new Regional Series, which starts on Sunday, features teams drawn from three squads of players announced yesterday, as follows:

Western Warriors: Q Sheikh (Captain, Clydesdale); M Iqbal, D Lockhart, I Young (West of Scotland); Z Bashir, K Farid, M Haq, O Hussain (Clydesdale); R Berrington, A Hislop, T McBride, K McLaren, W Rowan (Greenock); N Laidlaw (York CC); R Routray (Watsonian); A McElnea (Ayr).

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Eastern Knights: G Drummond (Captain, Watsonian); R Lyons, P Mommsen, F Watts (Carlton), O Hairs, N McCallum, G Maiden, S Smith (Grange); E Chalmers, S Chalmers, R Flannigan, P Sadler (Watsonian); S Weereratna (Heriot's); K Morton (Penicuik); C Legget (Carlton/ Durham MCCU); A Evans (Carlton, Loughborough MCCU).

Caledonian: J Stander (Captain, Aberdeenshire); F Coleman (Penicuik); U Mohammed, M Parker, C Wallace, R Watson (Forfarshire); C Burnett, F Burnett, M Petrie, C Ramsay (Arbroath United); T Buchan, M Cross (Aberdeenshire); S Galloway (Freuchie); S Coetzer, G Tomlinson (Stoneywood-Dyce); G Goudie (West of Scotland); G Hamilton (East Brierley CC).