~~I~~m lot closer to full fitness now than I was for Ashes~~
Published: Friday, January 3, 2003, 1:04 [IST]
Butcher feasts on soft fingers and umpiring grace
London: Burly all-rounder Andrew Flintoff said on Thursday he would be fit for next month's World Cup after undergoing a rigorous training programme back in England. The 25-year-old was sent home early from the disastrous Ashes tour having failed to recover from a groin operation and since then has been trying to get fit under the supervision of physiotherapist Dave Roberts at his county side Lancashire. Flintoff, who has rarely reproduced his county form at international level and has been beset by injury and weight problems, said he was happy with the way his programme had been going and was confident he would be fit by mid-January, the deadline set by the selectors. "I've had a hard couple of weeks, building up strength around my groin area and my general fitness," he told the 'Sun'. "I had a good bowl in the nets the other day, the ball was coming out well and I was getting close to full pace." Flintoff said both Roberts and England doctor Peter Gregory were happy with his progress and he felt a lot closer to being fitter than when he went out for the Ashes tour, where both he and Yorkshire paceman Darren Gough had to return home without bowling a ball in anger. "I can only speak for myself but I know I am a lot closer to full fitness now than I was when we flew out for the Ashes," he said. Flintoff said he did not agree with the critics England's cricketing prospects had never looked bleaker with them in danger of suffering a 5-0 whitewash in the Ashes. "In the next 12 or 18 months I reckon we will have a really exciting young bowling attack and I want to be part of it. You've got guys like Steve Harmison and Jimmy Anderson with genuine pace and there's Simon Jones to come back from injury - he is another fantastic prospect. "There has been a lot of negative things said about English cricket during the Ashes series but you can't deny there are real reasons to be positive about the future."