Ashes hero Flintoff joins England training after five-year absence

Andrew Flintoff.
Andrew Flintoff.
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Andrew Flintoff donned the Three Lions for the first time in five-and-a-half years yesterday, sparring with the England squad in the Gabba outfield and turning his arm over in the nets.

The former Test captain, who made a surprise comeback from retirement with Lancashire last summer, has been playing in the Big Bash with Brisbane Heat and was invited to link up with England by head coach Peter Moores.

The 37-year-old’s first involvement called to mind his brief dalliance with the boxing world in 2012, as he held up hand guards and encouraged a succession of players to unfurl a flurry of punches.

Fortunately, there were no knockout blows landed on the one-time heavyweight.

Later in the session he took to the nets and, after a long watching brief, bowled a tidy spell at the next generation of England all-rounders, Chris Jordan and Chris Woakes.

Flintoff’s return to the fold, however brief, is a surprise given England’s previous reluctance to draft in former stars and the Lancastrian’s own career trajectory.

He spent most of his retirement years lost to the game that made him one of Britain’s best-loved sportsmen, focusing instead on his light entertainment career, but he looked thrilled to be back involved.

Having flown from Sydney in the morning he headed straight to the ground wearing a black t-shirt and long shorts but was soon kitted out in full ECB training gear.

He laughed and cajoled a succession of partners during his boxing drill, though did not get the opportunity to land a blow himself.

Some of those involved – James Anderson, Stuart Broad, Ian Bell and Ravi Bopara – played alongside Flintoff but younger members of the party had the chance to share a moment with a man who inspired many young players during the 2005 Ashes.

Wicketkeeper batsman Jos Buttler is one of those who reveres Flintoff, and knows all about the galvanising effect he can have on a dressing room having played with him in last season’s NatWest T20 Blast final.

“That was the first I really met him and just to be in the changing room with him was great,” said Buttler.

“To say I played with ‘Freddie’ Flintoff is something I never, ever thought would happen but it was a great experience because he’s such a good guy to have around.”

Flintoff was also planning to attend an evening barbecue with the squad, where there will be another chance to pass on the benefit of his storied career.

“It’s always great to talk to guys who played the game and obviously being such a big character and such a great player for England as well, I’m sure everyone will want to chat to him,” Buttler added.

“He can talk about his career and we can pick his brains. He’s also been playing in Brisbane so he should have some local knowledge for us as well.”

Moores, who enjoyed a good relationship with Flintoff during his first stint in charge of England, was the driving force behind the nostalgic get together.

And he suggested that Flintoff may not be the last star name he calls to visit the current group.

“Any player who’s played for their country, and played brilliantly, it’s great to have them around the squad,” he said.

“Some things move on and some things stay exactly the same.

“He came in and gave his view, he had a bowl, and it was good to have him around.

“With past players, to make sure we build up those relationships is really important.

“We’ve had some great players who’ve played for England in the past and a group of players now whose job is to represent their country that way now.”

England are in action next tomorrow, when they face India in their second Tri-Series match.

Yorkshire batsman Gary Ballance has fractured a finger but has been passed fit for the World Cup.

Ballance, who was recalled to the one-day squad as a replacement for dropped former captain Alastair Cook, was struck on the little finger in his right hand during fielding drills in Canberra last week.

The 25-year-old will remain with the side for the ongoing Tri-Series against Australia and India and no batting cover has been added.

A brief England and Wales Cricket Board statement read: “Gary Ballance has a fractured right little finger, sustained during fielding practice in Canberra. Ballance will be available for the ICC Cricket World Cup and therefore we will not be calling another player into the squad.”

Ballance has yet to play since England arrived Down Under, with coach Moores apparently set on his preferred batting order.

Ballance and opener Alex Hales are the only members of the 15-man party who have not appeared in either warm-up match or Friday’s three-wicket defeat by Australia.

It is not yet known whether Ballance will be available before the end of the current series.

England’s reluctance to summon a replacement suggests they are not overly concerned about the injury, but have already indicated that any call-ups to the existing squad would likely come from the Lions party in South Africa.

South Africa batsman AB de Villiers has scored the fastest-ever one-day international century during South Africa’s run-laden innings against the West Indies yesterday.

The No 3 batsman needed 31 deliveries to reach the milestone in the second ODI in Johannesburg, five fewer than previous record holder Corey Anderson, who needed 36 balls to reach the milestone against the West Indies last year.

De Villiers said: “I think I was on 92 when I realised it had to be close. I was never sure how many balls it was that Corey Anderson took to get to 100 but I knew I had to be close and I wasn’t going to take ones in the 90s.”

De Villiers had earlier broken Sanath Jayasuriya’s 19-year record for the fastest ODI fifty, taking a mere 16 deliveries.

Openers Hashim Amla and Rilee Rossouw both scored centuries in South Africa’s 439-2 for a 148-run victory.