Australia and Flintoff hike

ANDREW FLINTOFF last night threw his international future into doubt after turning down a central contract.<br /><br />The injury-plagued all-rounder retired from Test cricket at the end of the Ashes series but stressed he still wanted to continue in the limited-overs formats. As a result, Flintoff was awarded a lower-tier incremental contract by the England and Wales Cricket Board last week, but the 31-year-old has rejected that offer in favour of operating as a freelance player in various Twenty20 competitions around the world.<br /><br />His decision will anger ECB officials who must now decide whether or not to play Flintoff under those terms. And after England slumped to a fifth successive one-day international defeat to Australia at Trent Bridge last night, it is one which has come at the worst possible time. <br /><br />Flintoff said: &ldquo;I said when I retired from Test cricket that my ambition was to become the best one-day and Twenty20 player in the world and playing in all these different countries can only help. I&rsquo;ve been very lucky playing for England for the past 11 years and I&rsquo;ve sampled different countries, but I&rsquo;ve always wanted the opportunity to play more in these places, get to know them and the way they go about their cricket.&rdquo;<br /><br />In response, the ECB said it would make no comment until they had &ldquo;digested&rdquo; Flintoff&rsquo;s remarks. As it is, Flintoff will miss both next week&rsquo;s Champions Trophy and the tour of South Africa as he recovers from knee surgery &ndash; at least giving selectors time to ponder their next move.<br /><br />In his absence England continued to toil, slumping to a four-wicket defeat to Australia despite registering their highest total of the series of 299 on an excellent Trent Bridge surface. <br /><br />Middlesex&rsquo;s Eoin Morgan top scored for England with 58, but Ricky Ponting&rsquo;s mighty 126 from 109 balls helped the Aussies to their victory target with 10 balls to spare.<br />