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CRICKET: TEST CREAK-ET; FIRST TEST: ENGLAND v WEST INDIES, LORD'S, TOMORROW Butcher set to miss out after 42 straight games, while Flintoff soldiers on in pain.

Byline: Mike WALTERS

WHIPLASH HAS almost certainly ended car-crash victim Mark Butcher's unbroken 42-match run in England's Test side.

And as a double injury setback rocked Michael Vaughan's men just 48 hours before their Lord's showdown with the West Indies, all-rounder Freddie Flintoff was told he will not be able to bowl in the first npower Test.

Butcher, who was already battling to overcome a torn thigh muscle, last night admitted he was struggling to shake off the after-effects of a road accident in south London on Monday.

Earlier, in another bleak medical bulletin from Headquarters, Flintoff revealed he had reluctantly endured his 15th cortisone jab in the last six years to treat inflammation caused by a bone spur in his left ankle.

If it works, the injection may enable Flintoff to bowl in next week's second Test at Edgbaston - but repeated injections can have severe long-term side effects, and England's talisman was clearly hesitant about his latest gift of the jab.

The twin setbacks mean Robert Key is standing by to win his ninth cap if Butcher's stiff neck and sore thigh do not ease and Flintoff's diminished role means England are down to just four fit front-line bowlers. Butcher, 31, was heading for a fitness test on his thigh at The Oval when his car was involved in a shunt just five minutes from Surrey's ground.

He admitted: "If the Test had started today, I would not have played, and if I can't practise properly tomorrow, that will be it.

"The other factor is my thigh, because I haven't been able to test it yet, but my neck is the more serious concern because it is stiff and I'm not moving too well.

"Apparently Ian Botham and Alan Knott share an England record with 65 consecutive caps, but I've still got my fingers crossed that I can make it to 43."

While Butcher's absence is likely to be only temporary, 26-year-old Flintoff could be heading for a lengthy lay-off if his latest jab fails to cure the soreness caused by a condition known as a posterior impingement.

Flintoff has bowled only 17 balls, in a Twenty20 Cup match for Lancashire, since the final Test against New Zealand at Trent Bridge six weeks ago, and he will face the Windies as a specialist batsman tomorrow.

Flintoff said: "I went to see a specialist in Leeds on Monday and he prescribed a cortisone jab to reduce the inflammation behind my left ankle.

"The problem has been caused by the force that goes through my front foot when bowling.

"I would prefer the injury to heal on its own because between the age of 19 and 23, I had 14 injections in my back and I don't want to go down that road again.

"But the specialist says that once the inflammation has gone, I should be fit to bowl because the bone spur on my ankle is not that big."

CAPTION(S):

GETTING IT IN THE NECK: Butcher gets a massage from physio Kirk Russell; ON THE BALL: Flintoff is ready to bounce back
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Jul 21, 2004
Words:514
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