Ashes 2010: The good, the bad and the ugly England are missing down under

On Friday England’s squad will head off for Australia as their preparations begin to heat up ahead of the Ashes’ campaign.

It will be an interesting experience for the team, rekindling old, unhappy memories for some, better ones for others, and for the newcombers it will offer them a personal, cricketing experience on a whole other level to what they are used to.

Andrew Strauss’ “Rabbit in a headlights” description of their last campaign perhaps sums up what the Australia experience did to some of the team in 2007.

As England set off to try and retain the Ashes in Australia for the first time since 1986/87 it is worth remembering those who for whatever reason can’t be there in this squad, yet have somehow played their part in England’s progress over the past 2 years and in their preparation for this tour.

Graham Onions

But for injury, Onions would probably have been a Test match regular this summer, and we may never have even seen Steven Finn, except playing for Middlesex. The Durham man, who has been out injured since the tour in South Africa, had made quite an impression during his brief Test career.

But for injury Onions could have been a certain starter

Taking wickets against the West Indies, Australia and South Africa, showed that he could mix it with the best and his accurate, pacey and economical bowling-allied with a tricky bouncer-could have been of great use in Australia. Hopefully he can return sooner rather than later and avoid the same fate which befell the last England bowler to be plagued by injury, Simon Jones.

Ravi Bopara

Bopara was ruthlessly exposed, and yet to recover

Suffered the rudest of rude awakenings at the hands of Mitchell Johnson and his slower ball variations which ruthlessly exposed the weaknesses in a technique which has already been sharply dissected during his brief Test career. It’s not to say his chances of returning are non-existent, but his progress has certainly stalled.

It’s easy to forget that Bopara is 25, boasts 3 Test Centuries-though all against the West Indies (god it’s sad to have to qualify Test match runs), but he is well out of favour in terms of Test selection having watched a resurgent Ian Bell, a methodical Jonathan Trott and the mercurial Eoin Morgan charge past him in the queue. He has time on his side to return, but until solves his technical issues, it won’t be coming anytime soon.

Owais Shah

Owais Shah: Explosive, Inconsistent, Misunderstood?

Whether he would have been on the plane or not is debatable. Shah’s forte was always the limited overs game rather than Test Cricket where he effectively got a batsman’s version of the yipes and turned into a version of Nasser Hussain in that he frequently ran out partners.

Yet Shah’s fall from grace has been both painfully horrible to watch but also hard not to sympathise with. He was jettisoned from the ODI team just two innings after making a magnificent 98 against South Africa in the Champions Trophy. Plus, along with Paul Collingwood and Eoin Morgan, he revolutionised England’s ODI form in that tournament-hitting big and embracing the brave new era the two Andrew’s were trying to instill.

Ryan Sidebottom

Sidebottom is another English bowler whose career has been affected by injury. Prior to his injury in 2008, Sidebottom was effectively half the England bowling attack on his own, and he bore the load well at first, but eventually become overburdened and eventually injured.

Ryan Sidebottom - a real competitor

He has never quite recovered since then, and eventually announced his retirement from international cricket this year. But the Roger Daltry lookalike, and inventor of the best non-cricketing shot around.

Yet he was popular, probably would have been in the squad, remained a key part of England’s T20 squad-which beat Australia in the final-and he was vitally important that day too with two key early wickets. He was the best English left-arm pace bowler since Alan Mullally, and could be missed in Australia.

Andrew Flintoff

Andrew Flintoff: Scourge of the Australians

English cricket’s own messiah has retired from cricket after failing to recover from long-term injury. It’s tempting not to class Flintoff as a forgotten cricketer because he will seldom be forgotten due to a) his starring role in defeating the Australians in 2005 and b) a burgeoning media career and a larger than life personality.

For so many reasons this is a crying shame, but in particular given the car crash nature of his previous tour of Australia, he’d probably have loved to answer a few of his critics with a big final tour before he finished.

Honorable Mentions and outside contenders: Adil Rashid, Craig Kieswetter and Luke Wright.

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Overcoming his latest setback could be Andrew Flintoff’s last, great challenge

As the news filtered out about Andrew Flintoff’s latest injury setback, it was hard not to cast one’s mind back to the scene at the Oval when the all-rounder played his final test match for England.

In the aftermath of the euphoria of the Ashes victory, the all-rounder was busy setting out the plan’s for his future career and what would drive him through rehabilitation from his injuries.

Speaking then Flintoff said: “I wouldn’t put myself out, I wouldn’t go through all this if I didn’t think I wanted to be a part of the team. I want to play in the World Cup and I want to play in the Twenty20 World Cup.”

Now with the latest news that Flintoff’s knee is not yet ready for the rigours of cricket in any form, and the fact that he will now have spent a whole year out of cricket, the stark facts are that at 32, we may have seen the last of Andrew Flintoff.

Not that anyone will quite be ready to write Flintoff off. He remains a titanic presence, one of the most dominant personalities in the game in the past 10 years. Yet any hopes of re-establishing himself with England are in jeopardy because in his absence the team have developed considerably in all forms of the game. Far from inhibiting England, it has emboldened them.

It is in this form that Flintoff, the man, the cricketer has established his legend and his fame. Without international cricket, much of the appeal about playing the game he so badly loves will undoubtedly dissipate.

There is the possibility of more cricket with Lancashire, and various teams around the world-such as in Australia and New Zealand-plus his large IPL contract. But such challenges, beyond the obvious financial benefits, will be harder to sustain as the tougher physical obstacles continue to impede his ability to perform at the highest level.

While there has always been something gloriously simplistic about the manner of Flintoff’s cricket, the willingness to run up and bowl fast at every opportunity and to it big sixes whenever he can.

Yet the man himself is far from a mere simpleton, he has throughout his career harboured great ambitions to achieve all that he can, both for himself and for Lancashire, and mostly, for England.

But with his latest injury blow likely to affect Flintoff’s chances of achieving those final goals he set out for the last chapter of his career, now he must begin to accept that those goals could well be beyond him.

As a cricketer, and as a man, Flintoff has had to overcome more than most throughout his career, and while his latest blow compares little to the prospect of facing Australia or the public scrutiny of his captaincy and conduct both in the Ashes and at the World Cup in 2007, overcoming it could be the last, great challenge of his career.