Clarke: Players must decide
London -England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) chairperson Giles Clarke defended the governing body's handling of Andrew Flintoff on Tuesday after the all-rounder underwent keyhole surgery on his right knee.
Officials expect Flintoff to be fit in time for June's World Twenty20 tournament, which is being staged in England.
But the fact the all-rounder injured himself playing in South Africa during the cash-rich Indian Premier League led former captain Nasser Hussain, among others, to question the point of England's central contract system.
The injury-plagued Flintoff has such a lucrative contract, which is designed to give the England management control over when he plays and when he doesn't.
Hussain was angry that ahead of a season that includes two Tests against the West Indies, the World Twenty20 and an Ashes series that Flintoff, who has had four operations on his left ankle alone, as well as side, groin, shoulder and back problems, was allowed to play in a "largely meaningless competition".
But Clarke, speaking on Sky Sports, said the ultimate responsibility for appearing in the IPL was down to the individual player.
"We have a position now where it is after all in the end a matter for the player. Some Australian players (including captain Ricky Ponting) decided they wanted to stay fresh for the Ashes and the (Twenty20) World Cup," he said.
"Stuart Broad (the England pace bowler) took a similar approach.
"I think it is absolutely right that it is a decision for the player, what he wants to do. He has a limited period of time as a player.
"From our point of view, the schedule is clear. We've done our best to ensure that those who do go (to the IPL) thought it through and that the medical treatment, if anything happens, as we've just seen, is prompt and decisive. That's as much as we can expect."
However, Clarke insisted: "It's key that the coach has the central contracts in order for him to make his decisions as to what he wants people to do.
"The view taken by the England management was that people would benefit, prior to the World Twenty20, from playing in a competition of great international intensity like the IPL."
But Clarke's explanation is unlikely to satisfy Hussain, a former England team-mate of Flintoff, who said last week: "Players just cannot have their cake and eat it.
"They cannot expect to reap the benefits of a lucrative central contract and then only be under the control of the ECB when it suits them."
In January, England coach Peter Moores was sacked after falling out with Kevin Pietersen in a row that cost the South Africa-born batsman the captaincy of his adopted country.
Moores's assistant Andy Flower was put in temporary charge and it wasn't until earlier this month he was given the job on a permanent basis, leading to suggestions the former Zimbabwe batsman lacked the authority to stop Flintoff, 31, from playing in the IPL.
England, with Flintoff in a starring role, won the Ashes on home soil in 2005 only to surrender them 5-0 in Australia in 2006/07 when the Lancashire hero was captain in the absence of the injured Michael Vaughan.
"Everybody in the country wants us to win the Ashes this year," said Clarke. "The preparation has been geared towards it.
"It's a seriously challenging exercise. We are not playing a team who will ever give up or a team that wishes to lose.
"They will be well-prepared and our players will have to be at the top of their form."
Flintoff tore the meniscus in his right knee while playing for IPL side Chennai Super Kings.
An ECB statement issued on Tuesday said: "It is expected that Flintoff will make a normal recovery and should be available for the ICC World Twenty20."