Australia v England, 5th Test, Sydney, 2nd day January 3, 2007

England play down Flintoff concerns

Andrew Flintoff only sent down six overs on the second day at Sydney © Getty Images
On a day when England needed to be firing on all cylinders to prevent Australia taking control of the fifth and final Test, Andrew Flintoff's contribution with the ball was a cause of concern. Despite taking the new ball, he bowled just six overs in the day in two three-over spells - one of which was interrupted by lunch - to raise further fears about his troublesome left ankle.

England nevertheless insisted that all was well. "His ankle is fine," said England's leading bowler of the day, Steve Harmison, whose sentiments were simultaneously expressed by the England press officer sat beside him. "It was just that myself and Jimmy were bowling well and the rain break came at a good time for us."

Even so, Flintoff's absence from the front line of the attack was a puzzlement - especially on a day when England were lacking the services of their most consistent performer of the tour, Matthew Hoggard, who failed a fitness test before the start of the match.

"When you lose your best bowler of the series it's up to the other bowlers to step up a little bit and hopefully that's what we've tried to do," added Harmison. "Jimmy bowled well. Monty bowled well and I felt I got better as the day wore on. It's nicely poised, and it's a good time to have a break and recharge the batteries and come back tomorrow."

Glenn McGrath is another man who knows about bowling through the pain of a sore ankle, having undergone similar surgery to remove a bone spur in October 2003 . "I'm not sure how Freddie's going at the moment," he said. "I know I felt great until I snapped one of the other spurs off.

"But bowling's a funny thing, and it's amazing how much pain you can bowl with. It's only in between the overs that you really feel it. I'm sure Freddie will keep going, and keep hitting the deck."

It was a day of disappointments for Flintoff, after earlier falling short of his second century against Australia. "He was batting well and we're all disappointed for him," said Harmison. "Australia bowled in good areas and didn't give us much to hit, and they tried to starve him of the strike as much as they possibly could. Perhaps we [the tail] could have got a few more and helped Andrew get us up to 300 or nearer 350.

As to Flintoff's general morale, as a gruelling series draws to a close, Harmison said: "I don't think he's taken it any more personally than the rest of us do. We're all disappointed, despondent and devastated. At the end of the last Test that dressing-room was horrendous, it was not a very nice place to be. But you have to put a brave face on and you have to show a bit of fight. I think Fred took it on the chin a bit more than anyone else as captain. But he's trying his best and we're all trying to win this Test match for England."

Subject to fitness, Michael Vaughan is waiting in the wings to take over for the one-day series, but Harmison was adamant that his friend was not keen to hand over the reigns. "I think Fred will be very disappointed if he's not captain for the one-dayers, if that's what happens.

"He just loves captaining England. There is no better job in Andrew Flintoff's eyes than being captain of England, but if that happens it happens. I'm sure he'll fall into line - as he would if Andrew Strauss had been named captain for this series."

Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo