flintoff - i've no excuses

Andrew Flintoff has admitted his conduct was "completely wrong" after being sacked as vice-captain and dropped for the World Cup match against Canada following a late night drinking session.

The Lancashire all-rounder was fined alongside five other players for staying out until the early hours of the morning at the Rumours nightclub nearby the team hotel following Friday's defeat by New Zealand.

But, after paying for his ill-judged antics with his place in the side against the minnows - who England beat by 51 runs tonight - Flintoff was contrite.

He said: "I know that what I did on Friday night was completely wrong and I have to take full responsibility for it.

"There can be no excuses on my part. I know I shouldn't have done what I did and I have to accept the punishment.

"To my team-mates and the England supporters that I let down, all I can say is that I am extremely sorry and assure everyone that I will be giving 110% for England for the rest of this tournament."

Newspaper reports that he fell off a pedalo boat and got into difficulties in the water in the early hours of yesterday morning forced England coach Duncan Fletcher to take action against Flintoff.

"The conduct of the players who have been disciplined was unacceptable and falls below the high standards of behaviour required of England cricketers," stressed David Collier, the England and Wales Cricket Board's chief executive.

"We fully support the England team management's decision to deal with this issue promptly and fines levied on the players concerned will be donated to the Cricket Foundation's charity, Chance to Shine."

England have not named Flintoff's replacement as vice-captain, but Paul Collingwood is almost certain to be the leading candidate should anything happen to prevent Michael Vaughan leading the side during the tournament.

The other players fined for breaching the team's discipline on Friday were James Anderson, Ian Bell, Paul Nixon and Liam Plunkett - all of whom were included for today's match against Canada - and Jon Lewis.

But England have clamped down harder on Flintoff having given him numerous reprimands about his behaviour over the years - his last World Cup ended when he was fined for missing a team function in South Africa.

Furious coach Duncan Fletcher stressed: "Andrew Flintoff has been given warnings about his conduct and disciplined for previous incidents of this nature.

"In light of this and due to the serious nature of the incident which he was involved in at the hotel on Friday night, we have decided to take further disciplinary action against him.

"Andrew has been made fully aware of the team management's concerns and the fact that the ECB considers this type of behaviour to be totally unacceptable.

"He will remain with the World Cup squad and be available for selection for our next match against Kenya.

"All players involved wish to express their sincere regret for the embarrassment caused to their team mates, the England supporters and the ECB."

There was no disciplinary action, though, against two members of England's management team who were also in the nightclub until the early hours of the morning - bowling coach Kevin Shine and Jeremy Snape, who has recently been added to the backroom staff to help the spinners with their mental approach.

Fletcher's former captain Nasser Hussain praised England's response to the incident and had little sympathy for Flintoff, stressing: "There is a history to this story.

"It's not the first time. In Australia he had three or four warnings about his drinking."

Speaking on Sky Sports, Hussain added: "The management felt enough is enough. At some stage you have to have some strong management, even with your best cricketer - well done England for finally for having some strong management.

"This is a pretty young side. A lot of the team look up to Flintoff and if you keep saying it's okay for Freddie they will think, 'If he is doing it, I can do it.'

"This will now send a message to the others that this is not how you prepare as an England cricketer. Footballers don't drink 48 hours before a match."

Bob Willis, another former England captain, was equally critical of Flintoff who he believes has not helped himself since his legendary all-night drinking spree to celebrate England's Ashes win two years ago.

"I think Freddie has been making a fool of himself since the celebrations of the 2005 Ashes," said Willis.

"He can't behave like that. Some of the players in the squad are only going to have one opportunity to play in a World Cup and they don't need their talisman behaving like that."

But Ian Botham, the last England player to be dropped from the team for a disciplinary matter after being banned for 63 days in 1986 for smoking marijuana, supported his fellow all-rounder.

"I'm laughing," said Botham. "I find it all quite amusing and a total over-reaction.

"OK, there are 24 hours until the next game but people react in different ways. Some players go to bed at 10.30pm tired, some go out and have a drink - the mistake was getting caught!"

Botham was also critical of the fans and holiday-makers who tipped off newspapers about the players' antics in the first place, adding: "What are those people doing out at three in the morning?

"I don't care what he does. Freddie's been England's best bowler for the last four years and just because he has a drink you can never say he's not trying his best for England, giving everything he's got."